Making friends through language blunders
Posted on: 9th December 2022
CMS missionaries David and Jenny Juniper are serving in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here David describes a recent encounter where his beginner’s Swahili helped lighten the mood.
A few months ago, we were waiting with our Congolese friend at the taxi rank for a taxi to come from his home village, so that he could take us to the national park where he used to work and then visit his family together.
On this day he began to look quite worried. Unfortunately, the regular drivers at the rank were not happy that he was using a taxi from elsewhere to carry the wazungu (white people), instead of one of theirs.
Voices were raised and accusations were made, and our friend was now looking very anxious. We tried to find a bit of shade from the dry season sun in a quiet corner of the taxi rank, but there was no refuge from the accusing locals.
As we continued to wait and much of the attention was on the presence of the white people (us), I thought I’d have a crack at breaking the ice.
I started to make conversation in my limited Swahili, and almost instantly the tension went out of the air.
A little group gathered around us to hear me, a white person, trying to speak Swahili. One of the men insisted that I learn some greetings in Mashi, the local language.
Finally, a taxi arrived from the village to pick us up, a few francs were exchanged to placate the other drivers, and as we headed off the main protagonist said, in English: “Go with God”.
Jenny, Paul, one of the national park guards and David.
We’d made a connection, but I was aware that even speaking Swahili doesn’t mean I really belong. Instead, we’re learning to ‘embrace our stupid’ and press on despite our linguistic blunders. I am discovering firsthand that you must be okay with people laughing at you if you want to learn a language. Sometimes, it’s laughing together at our communication failures that brings us closer to our friends and neighbours here.
With God’s help and your prayers, we’ll keep working hard at learning Swahili so that we can serve the church here, helping to develop leaders. But we’re also hoping and praying that many gospel opportunities would grow out of the mistakes we make along the way.
Ask God to enable David and Jenny to persevere with learning Congolese Swahili and culture, and to give them opportunities to share the good news about Jesus with people around them.