It was a minor dilemma. My son married a wonderful Colombian woman. So a few years ago, my wife and I had an opportunity to go to Colombia South America for Christmas. We did not know Spanish and we knew we would be surrounded by native Colombian Spanish speakers. We were wondering how we would survive the week with the minimal Spanish we knew, a week staying with her Mom and Dad who were not very fluent in English, a week where there would be countless gatherings with her very large, affectionate Colombian family.
Needless to say, we made an effort to learn what we could before we went. We studied out of a Spanish grammar book and I began to use Rosetta Stone for South American Spanish.
Our efforts paid off, not because we were good speakers. We weren’t. The family just appreciated that we were trying to speak their language. We grew to really like them and they seemed to like us.
But it was a stressful week. I kept an open mind because I knew I was an American visitor in a Colombian culture. I did not want to take my American cultural views and try to assert them in a very different environment. Some Americans do this type of thing, expecting the whole world to copy American ways. It was not like that for me. I tried to adapt and assimilate as much as possible. It was hard at times. We did not want to offend; we just wanted to relax as much as possible and have a good time.
Pastor Labberton speaks of learning the new language of helping others. “Like any language learning, it takes practice and review. It will mean awkwardness and failure. It will mean breaking old habits and overcoming embarrassments. It will mean taking risks. It will mean having to admit that the language we are trying to learn is first outside us, and only gradually comes to belong to us” .
Why is this important? He says that as Christians we are supposed to be in the business of calling and inviting, comforting and assuring, forgiving and including. All this takes language, a language that we are not used to speaking.
Where do we find this form of Rosetta Stone? Where is this grammar book?
It is in our Bible.
Recently I was counseled by a Pastor who tried to help me with fear. I went to him because I had been feeling some dread about some issues. He said I could pray, I could fast, but most of all I must turn to the word of God. Labberton says “the Bible is the bedrock from which we learn the taxonomy of God’s heart.” To learn the language of God and speak the language of God it is necessary to read the word of God. Like any language, we have to know it well enough to know if it is the voice of God or it is not. Labberton says that people can be “ventriloquists, imposing their voices where God’s belongs.” Learning the language of God is hard work; it takes time and it takes discernment.
The language of God’s heart is a foreign language for us all. None of us are native speakers. We could all do it but we have to want to do it, and for many, it is just too time consuming. We have other interests. We are sometimes just too lazy. Learning God’s language is like learning anything. You have to feel it is needed and worthwhile or you won’t do it.
The irony is that learning the language of God does have a huge payoff. The payoff is that we have a chance to be more fully ourselves as we begin to discern the will of God. Not only do we learn the true purpose of our lives but we begin to see that the purpose God intends for us leads us to true freedom and joy. Many don’t believe this. We need worship to convince us. We need Christian mentors, and teachers. We need to practice our language with others to really make it our own, so that it eventually comes out of our heart.
Labberton states that “the goal of taking every thought captive to Christ means moving toward the Rosetta Stone of the heart of God” . It means looking at those our hearts call “strangers” and hearing in Jesus’ word that we should be calling them brothers, sisters and friends.
It was hard to travel in a new culture, not really speaking the dominant language, but when our trip was over, I felt like we had a successful trip. I did want to return home. I had days of stress trying to avoid horrible mistakes, but as our hosts took us to the airport and we said our final goodbyes, I began to cry. I tried to hold it in; I did not know where it came from, but I got very emotional.
I never became fluent in Spanish but over the week, communication occurred and it was good communication. I knew our Colombian friends appreciated us and I knew we liked them. I wanted to return to America where I was able to function better, but I felt a closeness to our new friends that was hard to explain.
Maybe a new language, a new language from my heart.
Labberton says God’s language takes time. “It starts on our lips, engages our minds and eventually emerges from our hearts” 204].