After graduating from the Technological University of Panama, I went to France to work with Cru. As a native Spanish speaker and student of English and French, I wasn’t sure what to expect. “Not everyone you will encounter will know how to speak English,” said one of the staff members on the first training session. It was a given that in France almost everyone spoke French, and maybe half would know “a little” English. “But some won’t speak French either.” Now, that was a problem.
One third of the team members, myself included, knew some French. Language became a barrier for the rest, but not for long. Thankfully, we were introduced to GodTools, an app that you can use to share the gospel in different languages. This app is undoubtedly an amazing tool, but unless you’re fluent in the language the other person speaks, you won’t have a meaningful, spiritual conversation.
We can’t assume that everyone will know some English or that we can find translators. We must learn the language.
Sometimes, there can be a pressure in ministry to focus on the numbers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for us to be sharing the gospel widely when we can, but evangelizing shouldn’t be focused solely on the numbers. We are ambassadors of Christ. We should be reflecting Jesus in our lives. Jesus sat down with his disciples and other thousands of people. He took the time to teach them. His approach was not hurried or filled with shortcuts. Shouldn’t we be doing the same? If we’re going to sit with people in their sin and suffering, we must have authentic conversations with them. We can’t assume that everyone will know some English or that we can find translators. We must learn the language.
When we’re attempting to clearly communicate, we should aim to be proficient or at least intermediate speakers. The process of learning a new language can be a hassle. German is not easy, not one bit. Sometimes, we can think that learning a new language distracts us from real ministry, but this cannot be farther from the truth. Learning a new language makes gospel conversations with new people possible. I would be ecstatic if I was to share the gospel with a German speaker without using Google Translate. I might make mistakes along the way, though I would try to communicate it as simply as possible, not only for my sake, but also for the other person to understand.
When we know a second language, we can hold a fluid conversation with people that we meet. Of course, I am so thankful for interpreters, and I have served as one countless times. Translators must listen, translate, and deliver the message as accurately and simply as possible. Sometimes translators have to step in and simplify the ongoing monologues so that people understand. Because of the breaks in speech for translation, the conversation is not as fluid as if you were talking to your friend. This is why we should consider learning a new language.
It would be wrong to believe that we need to be proficient in a language to have a conversation with people. Colloquially, we don’t use that many words or use a technical language. Therefore, don’t be afraid to talk to locals with your beginner or intermediate level. They will be thrilled, even if you make mistakes they will help you. In Panama, we don’t even speak proper Spanish, we make mistakes all the time, and we don’t care as long as the recipient gets the message and is able to give us feedback. If you are considering going overseas, learn the language.
Reach the Nations
By learning a new language, you can serve people who speak a different language. By learning a language, you can help the church to reach more people for the kingdom of God. But, our calling as Christians does not stop with evangelism. By learning a new language, we can disciple new Christians and help them with their first steps of walking with Jesus.
By learning a new language, you can serve people who speak a different language.
If you’re only staying for a couple of days in this region, you should certainly partner with local churches to disciple the new believers, but, when appropriate, you can remain in contact after you return home. If we’re living in the region long-term, we now have an opportunity to walk with the new Christian and show them what the Christian life looks like. As Christians serving cross-culturally, we should encourage these new Christians to do the same: learn a new language and share the gospel.