My teen years were spent living on the banks of the Amazon River with my missionary parents. Could you have a more amazing growing-up experience than that? Yes, I have piranha, electric eel, alligator, peacock bass and monkey-hunting stories. And yeah, there was that anaconda incident.
I digress. Let me get back to my story.
One night the generator for our community went down. I was assisting missionary mechanic, Bernie Ketchum, when he found the problem and realized some welding needed to be done. Though I didn’t speak Portuguese yet, I was appointed to take the part to Manaus. They had me memorize phrases to explain what needed to be done. It was three simple sentences. All I needed to do was memorize and repeat them.
I headed up the Amazon River in my little homemade speedboat. During that 2-hour trip to the repair shop, I silently repeated those phrases over and over again. It’s going to be a piece of cake, I thought.
I found the repair shop, walked up to the counter, carefully unwrapped the part needing repair and laid it down in front of the mechanics. In my best “Tarzan” Portuguese I repeated the three sentences I had memorized. No one said anything. I repeated them a second time. A crowd of mechanics on the other side of the counter stared at me and listened. Finally one elderly mechanic jokingly said, “We do not speak Japanese here.”
Without another word, I picked up the part from the counter, carefully wrapped it back in the oily cloth, and walked out the door and back to my little speedboat.
It was going to take someone with fluency to get the job done. Missionaries all over the world can relate to my story of a first attempt to communicate in another language.
Language shortcuts, memorizing phrases and learning a low Tarzan level of language is never going to get you the fluency you need to share God’s Word and His story of love, grace and salvation.
Discipleship that leads to maturity requires fluency in the heart language of a people group. It is a long-term commitment. There are no shortcuts.
In this issue, we look at why NTM recognizes the importance of learning the culture and language of a people group well, and why that has such a big impact in the lives of new believers and in the future of thriving ethnic churches.
If you were part of an unreached people group, isn’t this what you would want?
PS Please let me know if this edition brings the challenges of culture and language learning to life for you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org