Diaspora Missions

A Little Language Goes a Long Way

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The United States is often referred to as the “melting pot of the world.” This is due to the unusually diverse nature of our country, in which you will find a variety of peoples, languages, and cultures which have “melted together” into one nation. The Pew Research Center reported in a 2020 article that 14% of the people living in the U.S. are immigrants. At the time, the foreign-born population in the United States was 44.8 million people, a record number. Since 1970, the number of immigrants in America has tripled – yes, tripled. The melting pot continues to expand and diversify. So more people are moving to America – what about it? Well, with such an influx of people migrating to the U.S., being a Christian in America is becoming more and more of a global experience. It is this realization that prompted me to ask myself: Is there something we as Christians can be doing to engage our intercultural neighbors with the gospel? And I think there is – but it’s not easy. And, I dare say, it’s not for everyone. This article is a brief personal testimony that a little language can go a long way. Allow me to explain.

God used my little bit of language to go a long way.

About a year ago, I began learning a language – more specifically, I started studying Mandarin Chinese informally. Looking back, I could not tell you exactly why, besides that I have long been fascinated with language and culture. It is awesome and humbling how God places unexpected desires in our hearts and opportunities in our paths, which He ultimately uses for His glory – yet another reminder that He is sovereign and very good indeed. Now, I should clarify that I know very little Chinese, but one of my goals when I began studying was to learn to share the gospel in this language. After all, what is the use of learning any language if I can’t communicate the good news about Jesus Christ to the people who speak it? Once I had learned some basic Mandarin greetings, common questions, and a simple gospel presentation, I began to go to local Chinese restaurants to practice speaking the language with the people there. I never get tired of the surprised look I get when they see a white guy speaking Chinese to them.

As I began interacting with Chinese folks in their own heart language, I noticed they were much more open to conversations with me. Knowing a small amount of Chinese has opened the doors for several gospel conversations that I likely wouldn’t have had otherwise. I recall the first time I ever shared the gospel in Mandarin. It was at a well-known grocery store in Wake Forest. I was having a conversation with a Chinese gentleman who was a cultural Buddhist. He spoke a fair amount of English, but he was still learning. I knew I needed to share the gospel with him, but at this point, I had never shared the gospel in Chinese, and I didn’t know if I could. So, I shared the gospel with him in English, and when I finished, I asked him, “David, did that make sense?” He paused for a moment and then responded, “Actually, there were several words you used that I couldn’t understand.” I couldn’t leave without him hearing the gospel, so I prayed in my heart and asked the Holy Spirit to help me recall the words I learned. Then I began sharing the gospel with David in Chinese, and when I had finished, I asked him, “David, did it make sense that time?” “Yes,” he replied, “It made sense that time.” The Holy Spirit used my broken Chinese to witness to David, and that day, David heard the gospel in his own language. God used my little bit of language to go a long way.

Let's take the first step in engaging the nations next door by learning a little language.

Through this interaction with David and my interactions since then, I have learned two things: First, language is a powerful means for making connections with people around us. Speaking to people in their heart language communicates an appreciation for them and their culture. Even more than that, it communicates to them that our God is a relational God, and He speaks our language. Second, and much more significantly, the Holy Spirit is powerful. He uses our meager efforts to reach people with the good news in ways we could never anticipate. We must never minimize the vitality of the Holy Spirit in our evangelism. After all, it is not we who save, but God Himself.

God calls us to use our gifts to serve one another and to share the one true gospel with everyone around us, including the nations in our backyard. You don’t need to be fluent in another language to reach your intercultural neighbors with the gospel. If anything, what I hope you take away from this article is that a little language – like learning to say hello, thank you, or simple phrases – goes a long way when building relationships with others and sharing the gospel with them. The nations are coming to us, which means we have more opportunity than ever to minister to them. Let’s take the first step in engaging the nations next door by learning a little language.

  • Diaspora Missions
Timothy Waters

Administrative Assistant

Timothy is the Administrative Assistant for the CGCS. He is a graduate of the College at Southeastern, and he is a student at SEBTS pursuing a MA in Intercultural Studies. His focus is to assist our Director and the CGCS as we accomplish the mission of equipping and mobilizing faculty and students for the Great Commission.

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