We have just finished our official CLA kickoff! CLA stands for Culture & Language Acquisition, and is a technical way of saying culture & language study. Two NTM consultants came out to our island and went over some materials and planning with us, as we embark on the marathon of learning another language (a much, much harder one) begins.
As many of you know, our first five to six months in country last year were dedicated to learning Tok Pisin, the trade language of Papua New Guinea, used widely all over the country. Our goal is to use this language to begin learning the Tigak language, the specific heart-language of the people we are planning to reach with the gospel and disciple over the years to come. While Tok Pisin is a trade language and easily learned in a relatively short period of time, the Tigak language is a language that will take us at least a couple of years to learn.
Its not only about the Tigak language, though. Language must be learned along with culture in the context of relationships. Our goal is to learn not only the Tigak language, but to also understand the Tigak culture as well, and to do this through friendships with the people and through shared experiences as we observe and learn from them.
Our language & culture study will be a full immersion process. We don’t spend all our time in an office learning from one person in a formal setting, but rather spend lots of time out with our friends in their own context, at their huts, around their fire, out on a canoe, in their gardens, etc. Armed with our digital recorders, camera, notepad and pencil we will head out to learn everyday, always observing, observing, observing. We are excited about the process and many of our friends on the island have offered to teach us.
We will also be using a computer program that was specifically developed for culture & language learners working in areas like ours. There is no Rosetta Stone for this language and their are no Tigak to English dictionaries. They don’t exist. We learn through hearing, recording, reviewing, reviewing, reviewing. Eventually as comprehension builds we being speaking and writing. Of course, there is much more to this, but you get the idea. Its not like high school Spanish!
Thankfully, we’re not on our own, though. For starters, we have Ned. Ned is our co-worker living in the village with us who speaks Tigak and is translating the New Testament into the Tigak language. He has been a huge help to us already and will continue to be an asset to us over the next two years.
Also, we will have oversight from two CLA consultants, Chris, a church planter working among the Siar people group and Aaron, a church planter working among the Patpatar language group. Chris & Aaron are in charge of coming alongside us, along with our co-worker Aimee, in our language & culture study over the next two years. They have personal experience in learning a tribal language & culture. They will come out every six months and do “language checks” or assessments of the progress we are making and will stay in touch with us to answer any questions we have, offer practical advice or wisdom when we need it, and overall be a source of encouragement, challenging us to continue on to the end.
Our goal is to reach proficiency in the language. This means that we can engage other language speakers on any level of discourse, from small talk to extended and lengthy dialogue. This means that we can communicate & explain naturally and freely about even the most abstract concepts.
One thing our language consultants told us repeatedly during our kick off was that the bar was set high because our message demands it. The bar is set high because we are talking about the gospel. Not only are we talking about the gospel, we are talking about discipleship into maturity. Spiritual concepts are some of the most complicated things to communicate cross-culturally. Our goal is to be at a place in language where we can actually teach spiritual truths effectively.
All this for the sake of people coming to know Jesus Christ, seeing them grow into maturity within the context of a maturing community.
As missionaries we sometime dream of suddenly being given instant and perfect knowledge of a new language. Now, as we begin the grueling task of learning this language it is so clear to us how intentional God was in NOT allowing us to know this language immediately. In order to learn it we will have to be with the people we are here to reach. We will spend hours side by side with them, they will be able to experience our love for them, our willingness to be stretched, to struggle and to work very hard in order to be able to communicate to them clearly a message that is priceless and life changing. Though we are sure there will be many days of language learning that we will not feel like having this attitude, we are so thankful God has decided to work this way. Our intensely relational Savior has chosen to use us in just that way-through relationships.
We have a long road ahead of us. Its a marathon, not a sprint. It is going to take our full time investment over the next couple of years, and we need your prayers. We need your prayers for encouragement, strength, discipline and a continued renewed vision for seeing mature churches established that bring glory to God.