As we prepare to start our language & culture training in just over a week (Mon, 8 Aug) we covet your prayers. More than just a practical tool to help us get around, we believe this is a critical part of being able to minister effectively in the area God is placing us.
I’d say we all know language is important when trying to communicate (particularly in ministry), but that’s not a given in a lot of our minds as is evidenced in various facets of the Western church’s approach to world missions today. Why take the time to learn a language when I can use an interpreter or, better yet, just use an app on my phone to translate? Is there a time for those tools? Sure. Is that a healthy primary approach to the long-term vision of building relationships, developing mature disciples, and seeing a thriving church for every people? While you consider that, I’ll add this, what can we learn from Christ’s own example of identifying with those He set out to reach (Philippians 2:5-8)?
Please pray that we would be able to learn the language well, specifically, that before the end of the year we would be able to reach a high level of fluency (“capable-high” on the evaluation scale NTM uses).
While language learning is a great start, learning the culture is just as critical. Culture “consists of the beliefs, behaviors, objects, and other characteristics common to the members of a particular group or society”. Quite often we don’t even think about our own culture because much of our shared knowledge, behavior, and values, are unconsciously passed from one generation to the next. It’s those very things, though, which define us as a people and make us unique. A tribal saying sums up the need for cultural awareness well: “When you enter the goat barn, make a goat noise. When you enter the cow barn, make a cow noise.” We’re in a goat barn here in the US, so we make goat noises. However, going to another barn now, we must learn to make new noises. Failing to do so can end ministry opportunity before it even begins by coming across in such offensive ways that even words spoken plainly will not be heard over the din of the “cultural noise.” In his letter to the Corinthian church Paul laid out a great example for us to follow here (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Please pray that we, like the apostle Paul, might also learn to “become all things to all people” so that our actions and attitudes will enhance our spoken word, allowing us to minister effectively at the heart level of the people the Lord allows us to engage.
*Photo credit for the cattle in the PNG highlands goes to Brent Ristau. In the trade language cattle are called bulmakau. We appreciate your prayers as we learn to make “bulmakau noises.”