The end of the beginning
Posted on: 2nd December 2022
CMS missionary Rowan, serving in South East Asia, reflects on how the challenges of language learning have helped him grow in his relationship with God.
I was doing some language school homework in a local food court, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye that one of the workers, Anton* , seemed quieter than usual.
I had met Anton several months earlier, around the time I began studying at the language school. He worked at a food court near where I lived, and I would often go there to study, as it gave me an opportunity to meet local people who might be able to help me with my homework questions.
I told Anton that even though he was smiling, his eyes seemed sad. Initially he was shocked that I had noticed, but he told me that he was worried because his father was having significant mental health problems.
Anton accepted an invitation to meet and chat over a coffee at another café. When we met, he shared his concerns. Even though he is from the majority-faith, he was pleased that I offered to pray for him and his father and family.
When I next saw Anton a few days later, he told me that his father was a lot better. He also asked if he could call me uncle, to signify that he was inviting me to be a part of his extended family.
I was blown away by his request, and grateful that God was able to use me and my less-than-perfect language skills to bring some light and hope to Anton.
Learning language and culture is hard work. It means going back to the beginning and starting all over again. It is tiring and stressful. It means having to hang in there and persevere, even if you think that your brain can’t take any more. It means not being embarrassed about making mistakes.
It means being humble and accepting (gracefully) that you have a lot to learn.
And it can take months and years before you finally start to get the hang of it. I have found the words of Winston Churchill, said in another context to be useful wisdom: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Ready to learn
Why is learning language and culture so important for missionaries? It’s not just so that we are able to open a bank account or get a SIM card for our phone, ask for directions or read food labels when we do the shopping.
I’m so thankful that learning language and culture opens vital opportunities to engage with people like Anton. It also reminds me over and over that I can’t rely on my own gifts, skills and abilities to get by in life, but on God’s goodness and grace and empowering.
Just as I need to be open to learning and being corrected by teachers at the language school, I also need to be open to God’s teaching and correction of me so that I can grow in my relationship with him.
Beginning to learn language and culture has helped to give me a firm foundation as I serve here.
So, where am I at in terms of language and culture? Perhaps, I am at the end of the beginning.
*Name changed for privacy reasons
Pray for CMS missionaries to continue growing in humble dependence on God as they persevere with the challenges of language and culture learning.