Missions Misunderstood » Blog Archive » Babble On

Posted April 1st, 2006 by E. Goodman

I had been here six months when I found myself talking with a friend who was not a believer. The only English he spoke was the HTML code he had picked up in a “Web Design for Dummies” class. I had only been studying his language since I arrived on the field, so I could hardly claim to be fluent. As usual, we started off talking about politics. Anarchy, I think, or something else I know nothing about. Then we got to the topic of family. His was very important to him, but he often felt suffocated by their constant dependence on him. He hated always having to help his grandparents and run errands. I say, that’s what you get for living at home until you’re 32.

Our leisurely discussion explored the limits of my language skills. I’ve always measured how well I can speak by how much the other person scrunches their face as they work to understand me. In any given conversation, my friend would go from a James Dean to a Gilbert Gottfried. He was at about a Dirty Harry when we got into spiritual things that day, and I was struggling to find the words to express such abstract concepts as forgiveness, prayer, and Vacation Bible School. I started to pray panic prayers when I realized that he was very interested in what I had to say, but that my language level wasn’t yet good enough to allow me to communicate.

But something happened as I shared my faith with my friend. Actually, nothing happened, which was strange. We just kept on talking. About knowing our creator, and about fuller life and about purpose. We talked about Jesus, and I shared some of my most personal thoughts about my faith. My friend told me that if he were ever going to believe in a god, that mine was the kind he’d like to believe in. Before our talk, he didn’t even know Jesus was a way, much less the way.

It wasn’t until I was home, praying for my friend to be haunted by the truth in our conversation, that I realized how un-scrunched my friend’s face had been while we talked. My friend had understood me, and he hadn’t been distracted by my American accent that often gets in the way. I had said things correctly in a language I had hardly known. We had talked about things I wasn’t capable of discussing. I had used words I had never learned. He didn’t have to correct me, help me, or ask his usual “What is it that you’re trying to say?” He heard Good News in his heart language.

The discussion replayed over and over in my mind that night, like one of those television dramas that frames the flashbacks in hazy, blurry border in order to make them seem more, you know, dramatic. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit spoke for me that day. I’m certain that He gave me words beyond my ability in order to communicate with my friend through me. Something supernatural had happened. Just to keep me humble, I had a miserable experience at a restaurant that night. I didn’t get what I thought I had ordered. The waiter didn’t understand me.

I don’t speak in tongues. I’m not allowed to. IMB policy prohibits me from participating in that sort of thing. It might not have been only the Holy Spirit that helped me, anyway. It was probably more like half Him, and half the intensive language course that I had taken. In fact, maybe I was just having a really good language day that day. I’ve been praying for more of those every day.

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