Thursday, March 15, 2012

Climbing the Language Barrier

Without a doubt one of the most difficult challenges we faced while living in Honduras was the language barrier. Not being able to communicate can be really frustrating. And let's face it. Sitting through a two-hour church service in a completely foreign language and pretending to be totally engrossed in it the entire time can give even the most devout follower a severe case of the yawns.

So not speaking Spanish was a huge disadvantage for our ministry. That's what we thought at first. But then we started to see some unexpected benefits to our language deficiency.

  • We had to find other ways to express ourselves. Often that involved hilarious hand gestures that confused more than they helped. But when students greeting us with friendly waves and giving us hugs after church, we knew that we'd somehow been able to demonstrate our love for them.
  • We learned to laugh at ourselves. You can't really take yourself too seriously when you're likely to tell someone they're a good horse when you meant to compliment their friendliness.
  • We let others laugh at us. Nothing ingratiates a person into the world of teenagers like letting them double over in laughter at your expense and chuckling right along with them.
  • We let ourselves be taught. Our kids loved having something that they could teach us. They were the experts and we were their favorite students.
  • We were at our students' mercy. And they knew it. Sure we were taken advantage of sometimes. But putting ourselves in such a vulnerable position helped foster a true connectedness we might not have been able to develop otherwise. We weren't perfect--we had weaknesses just like them.
  • We had to study. Honduran students aren't really taught good study habits and skills (at least not until they come to El Sembrador). Seeing us with our notebooks and study notes and giving them the opportunity to critique our work was a great way to demonstrate our commitment to learning and teach some valuable skills at the same time.
Yes, there were long staff meetings where we didn't understand a word. And yes there were times of miscommunication and confusion. And there were probably serious discipleship opportunities we missed. But I think if we had to do all over again, we'd still risk climbing the language barrier with the help of our new friends at El Sembrador.

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