How to Speak the Language of the Culture


Speaking the language We are missionaries in our world.  We have been sent with the promise of the Gospel to our broken world and are called to go into our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces with the message of the Gospel.  When a missionary enters into a foreign country, he must become a student of that foreign culture.  The missionary must study the culture before he ever enters the country, he must learn their customs, their language, their dress, the people of influence, and even their social behaviors.

In missions what often happens for missionaries is that there is a level of excitement when entering the new culture that they have studied.  But then not long after the initial excitement about the new mission work, reality sets in.

The realization dawns that this is now our home. Here our children will grow up as natives. And we must become one with these people with their unintelligible tongues and foreign ways before we can effectively share with them the Good News of the gospel. - Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

In order to effectively share the message of the Gospel, the missionary has to become a part of the culture.  They have to become a native.

The missionary needs to speak the language of the people.

A missionary is a translater.  They translate the truth of the scripture into the language of the people.  Whether that language be spanish, arabic, or english, missionaries are finding ways to translate the ancient truth into something that people can understand.  In our culture, there is no shortage of people who haven’t heard the message of the Gospel.

The job of the missionary is to translate the Gospel message into the language of these people.

Speak it in a language they can hear, understand, and apply.

The missionary needs to be one of the people.

Knowing the right words isn’t enough.  You can’t just know the language, you have to have the accent.  When tourists show up in town, all the locals can spot them a mile away.  They don’t look the same, they don’t talk the same, and the things they are interested in are completely different.

The tourist stage ends when we move from being outside visitors to becoming cultural insiders. This takes place when we establish our own homes, take responsibility for ourselves, and start making a contribution to the local community. - Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries

This isn’t to say that you have to agree with everything in the culture of the people you are trying to reach.

But it means that reaching the people in your culture is going to require more than dressing the part and learning some illustrations that prove you are culturally-savy.  The missionary can’t just drop in with a mega-phone and start saying all the right words, the missionary needs time and relationships.  The missionary needs to earn the right to be heard - a right that only comes through loving relationships with the people they are trying to reach.

 

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