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Honouring the King: Loving his people

CMS worker R teaches English as a foreign language in Eurasia. She explains why she goes to the extra trouble of learning the language and culture of her students, when she is trying to help them speak English.

I was recently at my friend’s wedding. She is my school manager and is fluent in English. We use whichever language we feel like using when we communicate with each other, and at the wedding I spoke to her parents in the majority language. But my deep desire is that next time we meet, I will have learned enough to speak to them in their own heart language.

For anyone who does not know God, this attitude may seem unusual. After all, it is entirely possible to live in an English-speaking bubble in a foreign country, especially if you have a job as an English teacher. So let me explain why I see that for me, learning multiple languages, as well as learning a new culture, is an expression of God’s love.

God loved us

God is the God of all peoples. He does not limit the way to himself through one particular language or culture. He speaks all languages. He knows all cultures. And in seeking to draw people to himself, God showed the way of reconciliation by sending his Son as a man into our world: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us…” (1 John 4:10, ESV).

We have a vastly different culture on earth to that which is in heaven! Yet Jesus revealed God’s love by entering into this world and learning the language and culture of the people of Israel. Love drove him to enter into our daily lives and experiences, yet without sin.

Following Christ’s example

Therefore, just as Christ crossed barriers and boundaries to become one of us, so I want to follow his example by taking on the language and culture of those amongst whom I live and serve.

My friends in Eurasia like to joke that I am one of them. Would they do so if they could not see that I genuinely love them and am trying to understand them and their language and culture better? Despite my failures to understand, they can say that I am one of them because our relationships are couched in a context of love. Even when I communicate with friends in English, they know I have put effort into learning their language and that impacts the relationship in a positive way.

What’s more, although many people know a little English, there are many who do not. In Eurasia, this is true for the majority of older people, as well as people who live in villages rather than cities. How can we talk to them if we do not learn their language?

I want to follow [Christ’s] example by taking on the language and culture of those amongst whom I live and serve.

This attitude applies to other aspects of culture. Take the example of physical touch. As a woman, I am now used to walking down the street with my arm linked in my friend’s arm, or even holding hands. It came as a bit of a shock the first time! However this is appropriate to the culture.

Ultimately, the reason for all these acts of love is because of God’s own self-giving: “…he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10, ESV). You can ask God that my words and actions will lovingly point people to God himself.

During a five month intensive course at St Andrew’s Hall in Melbourne, CMS missionaries are taught that language is relationships and relationships are language. Without one, the other cannot thrive.

A deep understanding of language and culture enables missionaries to speak the gospel in heart languages, so they can love and build friendships in culturally resonant and appropriate ways.

PRAY

Pray that CMS missionaries would persevere in learning language and growing in their understanding of the cultures they serve in. Pray that the fruits of the Spirit would grow in them and be evident in their words and deeds.