January 28, 2014
Where is your cah?
By John Scully
What is a soft drink called?
I was raised in New Jersey, and I called it a “soda.”
Do you say hoagie or hero?
How about sneakers or tennis shoes?
When I visited a friend in Boston, he asked, where is your “cah?”
He was asking about my car, but to my ears I did not know what he meant.
Many regional differences like these exist right here in America.
We all run into them from time to time.
Language can be confusing. Words have certain meanings, but they can mean something entirely different depending on how they are used.
Things get complicated when there are so many homonyms, homophones, and homographs.
Or misused words like “affect” or “effect,” “fewer” or “less,” and “complement” or “compliment.”
And then we have the phenomenon where a natural word like “bad” actually means “good.”
How would anyone without a natural grasp of the English language manage to understand these language nuances and cultural quirks?
Yet, when a Christian couple thinks it’s a good idea to be a missionary in a foreign culture, they often fail to consider language problems and cultural differences until it is too late, and they cannot understand why they are having no impact on the people they are trying to reach.
Bob Finley in his book Reformation in Foreign Missions states that if an American wants to go as a missionary, he should apply for immigrant visa. He says, “Unless you have already married a citizen of the country where you are going, you should go as a single person with the intention of marrying a local citizen after you have arrived there. If you go as an English-speaking married couple you will never be able to completely learn the local language or integrate into the culture.”
Let’s face it. Learning the language is tough enough, but learning how to communicate correctly and culturally is crucial. It could be humorous or disastrous when a person uses the wrong word.
So, when Christian Aid says that it is more efficient and effective to support an indigenous ministry or native missionary, one of the simple reasons is the language barrier. The gospel must be presented accurately, culturally, and relationally.
Let’s leave it to native missionaries.
They know what they are talking about.