Training in Tijuana
Last week we once again had the privilege of teaching at Radius International in Tijuana. There are 11 students there this year, all being trained to go to the hard places of the world, and take the name of Christ to Unreached People Groups.
They are also being taught how learn the Heart Language of the people to whom they will minister, and that’s where we come in. This semester Bill taught a 10-hour course called Form and Meaning.
Form & Meaning? What does THAT mean? Glad you asked…
Form & Meaning
Missionaries have the most important message in the world (that’s the “meaning” part.) They want to communicate that message clearly. But that’s not so easy. To have effective cross-cultural ministry, they need to be trained about what to say and do (that’s the “form“) that will clearly get that message across.
The trouble is, people around the world communicate meaning in different ways. Each language and culture has unique forms to share a particular message. Sounds, words, letters, grammar, gestures, even acts of friendship… all are forms that communicate very different meanings.
THERE IS NO UNIVERSAL WAY TO COMMUNICATE A PARTICULAR MEANING
It’s All About That Meaning
Here are some fun examples of form/meaning differences:
- Letters: The letter j represents one sound in English (as in “jump”), but a different sound in other languages: h as in Juan in Spanish, y as in Bjorn in Swedish, etc. “What a j sounds like” is completely arbitrary.
- Words: “Cat” in English is gato in Spanish, right? Well, kinda. Gato also means a car jack, a person from Madrid, and many other things. Words don’t have one-to-one correspondence.
- Metaphors: In our English Bibles, we have “edge” of a sword; but in the Hebrew and Greek it is actually the “mouth” of the sword (yes, it’s a double-mouthed sword in Hebrews and Revelation!) In Palawano, the “mouth” of the sword is its tip; the blade or edge is called the “eye” of the sword.
- Grammar: English has the single word “us.” Palawano has three different words, meaning: “us, but not you,” “just you and me” and “you, me and all of us.” Three forms. English has one form, and lumps all three meanings together.
- Little Things: English has about 150 prepositions and some of them, like “of,” for example, have a dozen or so meanings! Some languages have ONE preposition. Meaning gets communicated with very different forms.
And those are just the easy kinds of differences!
Expect the Unexpected
- Turning verbs into nouns: Some languages don’t make nouns (repentance, baptism) out of verbs (repenting, getting baptized) the way English and Greek love to do.
- Making friends: What if saying “I just got you a little something” was an insult? What if saying that a baby was beautiful made the mother frightened (because you just alerted the evil spirits to where a cute victim was)? What if you were supposed to change the form and say that the baby was “ugly” and mother (but not the spirits) would understand the meaning to be, “Oh, what a cute baby!”? What if you gave a friend a dozen roses and they understood you to mean, “Drop dead!” because it was an even number?
- Asking questions: And what if Jesus’ rhetorical question, “To what shall I liken the Kingdom of God?” meant that he really didn’t have a clue and was asking the disciples to explain it to him?!
In each case, you would have to make some big changes to communicate what you meant to say.
THE FORM MUST CHANGE FOR THE MEANING TO REMAIN THE SAME
That is the lesson Bill was teaching the students. They cannot afford to “think English and translate.” They must learn to think about the meaning and communicate that in the best form. In the fall semester, Bill will teach them more about how to discover the underlying meaning.
It’s a joy and a privilege to teach these eager missionaries and to get to know them. Both of us enjoyed chatting with them over lunch and answering their questions about missionary life.
Oh, and by the way, lunch at Radius is always awesome:
Thank God with us…
- a good week of teaching
- no hassles driving in and out of Mexico 5 days in a row
- safety in spite of a flat tire on the interstate (after leaving Mexico on Friday)
- the privilege of training others to reach the Unreached