Elliot Martin, 2019 Graduate
One of the biggest lessons I learned from my internship in Mayotte is the importance of language learning. Without first learning someone’s language, you cannot serve them well. In Duane Elmer’s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood, Elmer describes servanthood with a set of steps. He says, “You can’t serve someone you do not understand… You can’t understand others until you have learned about, from and with them… You can’t learn important information from someone until there is trust in the relationship… To build trust others must know that you accept and value them as people… Before you can communicate acceptance, people must experience your openness.” Openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding, then service. You may not agree with Elmer’s steps to servanthood, but you can read his book to hear his arguments. What I want to say, or rather ask, is how many of those steps can you do well if you can’t communicate deeply with someone?
I’ll use a story as an anecdote. Towards the end of my internship, I went to a Christian doctor’s house where his family was having a prayer meeting with other French Christians in his village. As people came into the house, I would greet them with the simple phrases I knew how to speak in French (“My name is Elliott.”, “How are you?”, “What’s your name?”, “I can only speak a little bit of French.”, etc.). I couldn’t say a ton, but I think they understood me, and I understood some, but not all, of what they said. Then, the doctor gave a brief lesson from the Bible. I understood even less. Then, we prayed. Here, I became a little proud of my French ability – I shared a prayer request and prayed in French. Some of the people even said “amen,” so it must have at least made some sense. But, then came the worst part. When we finished praying, all of them started asking me questions in French. “Why are you in Mayotte?” “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Are you getting married?” “How many kids do you want?” Yes, they asked all of those questions and more.
I’ll let you guess how I answered those questions with my very limited vocabulary. Here’s my point: to some of the questions, I gave simpler answers than I would have typically given because I couldn’t fully explain the answers to those questions. I gave simplified answers rather than trying to explain the whole truth. And, I could tell other people did the same thing to me when they realized I didn’t speak French well. That’s not openness, but it makes sense. Why would I expect people to spend the time explaining personal or detailed information to me when they aren’t sure if I am understanding everything in the way intended for me to understand it? And to go down Elmer’s list, why should I expect people to accept me when I might not be giving them the whole truth because I don’t know how to explain all the details? How do you build trust with someone when you can only communicate with them on a shallow level? Can I really learn about someone if they don’t speak to me in the same way as they speak to the people they talk to every day? How much understanding can happen if they are explaining ideas in one language and I am trying to think about those ideas in a language that may not be able to literally translate the thoughts word for word? And if I perceive who they are, what they want, or where they are coming from even slightly differently than the way they are meaning to communicate those things, how could that affect the way I serve them?
The encouraging part is that many people do take the time to understand a language so well that they can think or even sound like a local. I can think of plenty of examples of international students that speak just as well as (maybe even better than!) most native English speakers. Communicating deeply, clearly, and precisely is essential to service. And getting to that point is doable. It just might take a little more than “I’ll figure it out once I get there.”
Kaylah Smith, Senior Nursing Student
I left for Romania excited at the thought of being able to learn more about the medical profession and hoping to put my limited “medical knowledge” to use while there. I hadn’t really thought about the trip much other than that. But God had much more important lessons in mind for me to learn.
The first lesson that God had me learn was the importance of seeing people the way He sees them. On the first full day of our trip (Saturday), the missionary gave us the opportunity to visit a church plant, and I gladly agreed to go along. This church plant, located in a Gypsy village, met in the open air because there was no church building. There were many children running around—and many of the little children’s parents seemed to be barely past childhood themselves. The children were filthy from playing in the dirt and not having running water in which to wash. The children wanted me to play with them, so I did so as best as I could follow along, and when we got ready to leave, they all wanted to hug me. Later, I learned about the Gypsy people: they are the poor people in Romania and the target of discrimination. I began to pray (and still pray) that, even though we could not speak these people’s language, gospel seeds were sown by us showing that God’s love does not discriminate against different people groups. God taught me through this experience that I am not better than someone else just because of my geographic birthplace, my education, my financial status, etc. He taught me that all people are precious in His sight—souls created in His image and in need of Him.
The second lesson God taught me was the universality of the church. On Sunday, we attended another church plant (this time, one with a building) in a different Gypsy village. The church service there was different than the typical U.S. church service I was used to. As soon as we walked into the church, the missionary’s wife politely pulled us aside and informed us that the women sit on one side of the room while the men sit on the other side. When one lady from our team used Google translate to interpret and tried to have the lady to whom she spoke read the interpretation, the missionary’s wife again quietly informed us that many people in the church, especially the women, cannot read. Also, for this reason, the church does not have song books. Consequently, the song leaders play a video through a speaker, and whoever knows the words sings along. Another thing that the Roma church did differently than churches here in the States was having many people pray during the service. (Usually, everyone in the church prays, but our team basically doubled church attendance that day, so we would have been in church for a very long time!) One other thing that the Roma church did differently was that, during communion, everyone drank of the same cup. (That seemed to me a picture of the unity in the church.) It was such a blessing to attend church in a different country! God made the fact that He will ransom people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) very real to me as I worshiped Him with my Roma brothers and sisters.
Throughout the week of clinic, God helped me to see how there is unity in the universal church. Seeing God bring together brothers and sisters, who live in five different countries, to further His kingdom was amazing! The brothers and sisters from Romania were the very important “behind-the-scenes” people who fed, encouraged, and interpreted for our team of medical professionals from U.S. and Canada. Our team used medicine to attract the people to the clinic, and the Romanian brothers preached the gospel to the patients as they waited for their medicine. We had missionaries to Croatia, Hungary, and Romania help and interpret at the clinic. All of us working together showed unity of the universal church.
The final and biggest lesson God taught me during my time in Romania is that all of life is ministry. During my “down time” during the week, I was able to converse with missionaries and national pastors about how God called them to ministry and how God uses them to minister to people where they are. I loved hearing the different stories from everyone, but one story especially stands out to me. My interpreter from one day was a missionary from the U.S. but a self-proclaimed Romanian. She told me how she teaches English to children as her ministry and explained with different examples of how that plays out every day. Eventually our conversation turned to the declaration that all of life is ministry. No matter what we are doing – whether it’s teaching English, using our professions, helping in various church activities, or just being a friend – all of life is an opportunity to share the gospel. Every moment of life should be spent praying, meeting people, and telling them about Jesus.
When I got home from Romania, God continued to teach me the lesson that life is ministry. God wants all of us to share Him whatever we’re doing and wherever we are—whether we’re overseas or at home. The most important thing in all of life is God’s glory, and one way we can give God glory is to share the Good News with others. Yes, God calls people to be overseas missionaries, and they have many opportunities to share the Good News with others. But God calls everyone to be a missionary—one who shares the Good News of Jesus with everyone.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.