• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Language learning, culture and humility

Most of us are activists at heart.  That’s one of the ‘core skills’ of a cross cultural worker; whether plodding or charging ahead, the cross cultural worker will move forward.  We’ve got that ‘checklist’ mindset where each part of the church planting task gets ‘checked off’ as we move forward to the next part.

Language learning?  Nine months of intensive study in a language school and we can check that requirement off.  Cultural learning?  Digest two to books on Haitian culture plus a weekend stay with a Haitian family and we can check that requirement off.  It’s just so straightforward.language learning

Yet, something in that ‘process’ doesn’t rime with Paul’s confession: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12.9)

During my first few months of language school, one of our professors announced that he was going to share the ‘secret’ to staying long term France.  All of us grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, ready to write down these words of wisdom.  This was his ‘secret’: “Every day, when you get up, go into the bathroom, look at yourself in the mirror and say: “Thank you God that I am your beloved child.  Help me to learn one more French word today.””  That was it. That was all he said.  To say that most of us in the class were disappointed would be an understatement.  However, he touched on one of the fundamental elements of the cross cultural journey.  It’s more about humility than performance.  It’s more about a growing dependency than about independence.

You cross the cultural bridge.  You lay anchors to keep you from sliding back onto the bridge.  And you recognize that each day of this journey will take you deeper into humility and dependency; something that goes against our nature and that we often resist.

All of us know that humility is not part of an online module in which can participate. However, we can certainly strive to put ourselves in contexts where God’s Spirit can continue His refining work, leading us to depend more and more on Him.  Some suggested ‘contexts’:

  • Learn a new word, a new expression today. Grab hold today of the right way to say something you’ve struggled to say correctly for a while.
  • Say ‘thanks for your help’ when someone corrects another one of your grammar mistakes.
  • Ask a neighbor to explain the meaning of a recent cultural event or particular cultural value.
  • Read up on a local historical landmark and go visit it.
  • Ask for help in doing a project at your apartment.
  • Consistently describe yourself as a ‘lifelong’ learner

7 Responses

  1. Since you mentioned Haiti in your post, I feel obliged to respond! Amen 100%. Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1)–I’m preaching on this verse in Haitian Creole tomorrow night. In the same context, Paul earlier writes, “I make myself a slave to everyone…to the Jew…to those not having the law…to the weak…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:19-22). This is the apostolic path, the missionary path. It is very practical “to win as many as possible”. It is also rooted in the Gospel: “I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (v 23). If we don’t lose ourselves for Christ’s sake, which includes losing our identity found uniquely in our home culture, then we lose the richness of having Christ be our identity, as Paul knew so well. When Christ is our life, we are set free to love, serve and enter deeply into a new culture without feeling lost or ruing the sacrifices necessary to bear fruit in the new society.

    • I could have used lots of places. You just came to mind first (: Thanks for you addition. My goal is to challenge people to see culture and language learning (read, contextualization) as an ongoing part of our journey. And that one of the core elements of this process is to take us deeper into humility.

  2. Another well placed brick in building a solid building for cross cultural ministry. Amen and Amen. Thanks David for this gift to the WT family.

    • Thanks Steve for your encouragement. I couldn’t see myself going past the first installment, but the encouragement and prayers of many kept me writing.

  3. Amen and amen. I preached my first message in the Yali language after about 18 months (without having a grammar and textbooks!); However, language and culture learning never stop. I was 4 years into the language and culture before I got seriously into Bible translation. After about 15 years, Gloria and I felt really competent, and the next 5 years were the best as resident missionaries. As you know, I still go back, and continue to learn new vocabulary and idioms. Always being dependent on God, seeking to be humble before the people, and always being a learner are are fundamental postures.

  4. Humility is a primary requirement for life long learning.

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