Reaching out with clarity
Posted on: 30th November 2022
Ben works with the CMS Mentac program, training people with a specific interest in outreach to Muslims. Here he gives a small insight into the value of learning Arabic in talking about the gospel with Muslim people.
“Tell us a story!” My family and I had been in the Middle East for two years and a friend asked for another story from the gospel. I shared one with the group, but not very well. I used simplistic vocabulary, and knew I hadn’t quite nailed the delivery, but they seemed to understand. As the conversation continued, however, I seemed to be getting more blank looks, and I was struggling to deal with their comments on the story as well. I knew I was woefully under-equipped to deal with the deeper issues in their lives and the fullness of the gospel. If they came to Christ, we would need to go much deeper still. I never realised how nuanced my English was, until I started trying to speak another language!
Working to learn Arabic
In 2014 we went to the Middle East for three years to help us understand Arabic, and Arab Muslim culture, as preparation for long-term ministry among Muslim communities in Australia.
It was a worthwhile investment. I can now make rapid connections with Arab people here. And it’s also given me a real insight into their cultures and worldview, language and culture, being two sides of the same coin. I use what I’ve learnt as often as I can, including recently to comfort a dear friend whose daughter has been in hospital.
The task of the gospel worker is clear communication.
I can get away with having limited Arabic because I’m serving in an English-speaking country. My limitations in Arabic (or Urdu, Bangla or Dari) are not insurmountable, especially where English is the main language for daily communication. But for those serving in non-English-speaking contexts, mastery of the local language is a critical skill for accurately communicating all aspects of the gospel, and undertaking the important work of discipleship.
Clear communication matters
We take communication seriously because God takes communication seriously. In the Bible, God communicates through human language, using the language, abilities, education and experience of the prophets and apostles to reveal himself. He does this because he intends to be understood. In contrast, the Qur’an tends to function differently for Muslims, most of whom are unable to read the Qur’an (even many Arabs) since the language is so archaic. The Qur’an is generally not read for comprehension among Muslims, but it is recited in Arabic. Muslims learn to pronounce the sounds as an act of obedience to Allah, in order to gain reward and for blessing. Even here in Australia, we can see children with verses of the Qur’an pinned to the inside of their clothing, and prayers hanging from car mirrors, to provide protection and channel blessing.
But the task of the gospel worker is clear communication: communicating with God about people, and communicating with people about God (see Acts 6:4). Fundamental to this is language, if not the high Arabic of the Qur’an, then certainly the ordinary speech of whatever precious person God has put in front of us.
So in Mentac, and in CMS, we continue to work hard to learn the language of our hearers, both for the sake of relationships and for the sake of the gospel.
Mentac exists to train Christians in Australia to learn to care for people from other religious backgrounds, including Islam, by getting to know them. Contact Mentac to learn more about caring for your Muslim neighbours at cms.org.au/get-involved/mentac