This is blog post #2 in our Vision 2023 series. Today we hear from Debby Chapman who is just days away from delivering her twin boys. She shares with you the lessons learned and unique experiences she has had as a new missionary learning a new language…. Something that, if you should become a missionary yourself, you would have the exciting privilege of experiencing as well.
Yes…AHGOCPPS! Let me explain — these are the things Brett and I are learning as we also learn a new language on a new field…
We get to go on adventures every day, because every day it seems we need to do something that may be totally comfortable and unadventurous in our first language, but here it’s an entirely new set of vocabulary and a strong chance that many words will be said that you’ve never heard before. Paying bills, buying groceries, asking directions, fixing broken things, all become mini-adventures. For instance, a few weeks ago we were talking to our mechanic who was looking for our car’s “gata.” We could not figure out why there would be a “cat” in our car, but apparently that is also the word for a tire jack here. That one took a while to figure out!
No matter how smart we may be in English, in a foreign language we definitely sound like two year olds piecing together their first sentences. “I..we. to hear fireworks.. night time forever…” which meant: we heard fireworks all night last night. We purposed to come in as learners, but it is so humbling to step back and muddle through conversations, so that one day you can speak clearly and be able to share the rich, deep truths of God’s Word.
This attitude is so important yet often so hard to maintain. We need help all the time. God provides through the other missionaries here on the field, and mostly through locals who are so patient to help us as we awkwardly communicate. This leads to relationship building which is really the foundation of church planting here on a new field. As I reflected on this today I thought about how a typical American would deal with someone who came up to them and spoke to them very slowly, with a thick accent, with broken English, using child-like simplistic words, and my guess is that few would give that person the time and respect to listen carefully to them. That is not the case here. People generally will take the time to listen to you, help you with vocabulary, pronunciation, and meaning of words. I think learning English in America would be a completely different experience
We have come here as learners of not just language but also culture, in order to present the gospel of grace in the clearest and most pertinent way we know how. We need to be good listeners and observers to understand how people think. We pray that when we share from the Bible it makes sense in their culture. One interesting example is idioms. One day Alberth (my Spanish Instructor) and I were discussing idioms. One that came up was “por la boca murio la pez” — literal for the mouth kills the fish. He said that it comes from the original Spanish conquistadors and has to do with your wife/girlfriend is beautiful and a good cook. What?! I have asked others and they say that it means that your words can harm you, like the English idiom “silence is golden.” As I have thought about this I wonder if the second meaning is a derivation from the first, because if you insult your wife’s/girlfriend’s cooking you will pay for it so it is better to say nothing. Every day is full of observations to try to understand life here, and to know the people and what defines their culture and values.
It takes lots of practice and so much trial and error to learn a language. Sometimes we are weary and feel afraid to fail again. It takes courage to go out every day and put ourselves in situations where we know we’ll get laughed at or won’t be able to say something clearly. I can’t tell you how many times I stop mid-sentence racking my brain for a word and end up changing everything I wanted to say so that I can use the vocabulary I know. It takes courage to try and fail repeatedly, but it is worth it because the message we have to share is the most important news in the whole world, it is so important to communicate clearly and understandably.
That God will be glorified when people know and worship Him. It drives us to keep at it. And we get to watch God work in our weaknesses toward this end (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). He gets the glory as we walk day by day with Him in dependence because we cannot do this on our own.
We get to wait on the Lord to open doors for ministry. Prayerfully we take each opportunity and see where it will lead. Because this is a new field it takes time to build relationships with the community and wisdom to know how to best begin ministry with each person or group especially with language limitations as we continue toward fluency.
We need your prayer and encouragement. Some days are tough and we feel like we’re not making any progress. Some days we really need someone to be excited when they hear how amazing it was that we successfully had a whole conversation with someone walking by and even knew what they were talking about. Every day we need prayers that God will enable us to be gracious and share His love whether in (broken) word or in quiet actions.
Brett and Debby Chapman and their two daughters, Chloe and Lily, arrived in Nicaragua in February 2015 and are still learning the Spanish language. In this article Debby was gracious enough to share her heart about the victories and struggles of what it is like to be serving on the mission field while still learning the language. www.gracem.org
If you missed the first blog post of this series you can read it HERE