Fresh Off the Plane - Language School
You’ve made it through your first few weeks on the mission field! You have (hopefully) found housing, transportation, and food. You now have funny stories to tell about said housing, transportation, and food. You’re functional, except for one life-altering detail. You can’t speak!
You go outside and hear mush mush mush blah blah blah, followed by some rolled R’s. Panic grips your heart: “How am I ever going to reach these people when I can’t understand their language?” Well, you probably won’t reach them until you start learning the language, so it’s time to get to work!
Be intentional. Your first couple of months were spent getting operational resources (documents, housing, furniture and a car) in order to do spiritual work. In the same way, view your language learning as shopping for linguistic resources to do spiritual work. To give someone a ride to church, you needed a car. So, you invested a chunk of money and time to obtain one. To give someone the gospel in their language, you need prepositions, verb conjugations, classifiers, and syntax. Hence, invest another chunk of money and time, and get them!
I believe your long-term spiritual effect on the mission field is directly proportional to your initial language investment. You may want to jump in to serving at a church and doing ministries that don’t require as much speaking. That is great, but, for at least the first year, see language learning as being a full-time college student, and other ministry as doing extra-curricular activities. That sounds unspiritual, especially when your goal is to share the gospel. But, jumping into lots of work right away will limit your ability to attend classes, do homework, memorize verb charts, practice with a language partner, and whatever else it takes to sharpen those linguistic ministry tools. Communicating God’s Word is your offensive weapon in spiritual battle. Spend a year learning to wield your sword, and then charge headlong into the battle.
While formal language learning with accountability is important, being on the field gives you free language acquisition tools as well. Pick up vocabulary from the newspaper, TV, signs in a store, advertisements, trucks, billboards, and buildings. Listen to people chatting at the table beside you or to your neighbors yelling at each other. Your world is a giant language classroom!
Take advantage of what God has given you, and remember that His grace is sufficient. You’ll get there, one word at a time.
In a Nutshell: Shortchanging language learning at the beginning of ministry is like shooting yourself in the foot; you’ll limp through ministry the rest of your life. Investing a solid year in language school at the beginning can pay dividends for decades to come. Work, work, work at it. God will give you what you need to accomplish His good purposes through you.
About the Author: When Sarah & her husband, David, arrived in Portugal in 2010, learning Portuguese & Portuguese Sign Language was their first task. Since then they have both taught in local schools and after-school centers, built relationships with neighbors and co-workers, and begun two church plants in Montijo. Their desire is for God to be glorified in Portugal!
Learn more about their ministry by visiting their website: www.boothsinportugal.com