Different Languages

WORDS FROM W.W. August 18, 2011
On a recent flight to Chicago, Carol and I witnessed an interesting language situation. Across the aisle and one row up there was a little girl about 7 years old sitting in the aisle seat with an open seat beside her. We couldn’t quite understand why she was by herself, but, of course, “not understanding”is a key term in this story.
A good-sized man in his late twenties came up the aisle as people were finding there seats, and when he got to the aisle that the young girl was sitting in he looked up at the sign that tells which seat is which, looked down at the young girl, looked back up at the seat, and then asked the young lady “Excuse me! Is this your seat?” She looked up at him with a seven year old’s confused eyes, but didn’t say anything. The young man, who was about 6’2”, 230, was very patient and he sat down in the open seat behind her and waited until a flight attendant might happen to wander by.
About a minute later a young woman came up the aisle and the young man realized that he was in her seat, so he unoccupied it and stood in the aisle…with great patience. (Yes, where are the flight attendants when you really need them?)
Finally one of the attendants happened to come by and the young man asked him about the young girl. With a bit of frazzlement the attendant said to the 7 year old, “Miss, this is his seat.” And then the attendant fled the scene! The young lady didn’t say a word, and continued to sit and play with her teddy bear.
The football player continued to be very patient. He got the attention of another flight attendant who came by, said something similar to the young lady, and then proceeded on.
A minute later as the plane has filled and the man is still standing in the aisle, another attendant came by and talked to the girl. Finally, it dawned on someone that the child didn’t speak English. She only spoke Spanish, and her grandmother was in the row ahead of her, and her mother was four rows in front of her.
Enter a flight attendant who spoke Spanish, and the situation got easily solved. And let me say it again, the “Hulk” was patient the whole time. The young girl was simply one seat away from where she was suppose to be, but the language of the airlines was foreign to her. She simply sat in the first open seat.
I thought of how people who aren’t familiar with church sometimes brave a visit. We need to ask ourselves how much of what we say is like a foreign language to them. It’s not that we should not use terms like “atonement” and “blood sacrifice” and “Pentecost.” But, perhaps, we must be willing to slow down enough to explain them. How comprehensible is the message that we proclaim about the gospel of Jesus Christ? How clear is the pivotal truth of the grace of God in a culture that believes more in earning one’s way?
When I receive a blank stare from someone who happens to navigate what the right entrance is into our building, find the sanctuary, and join our congregation in a gathering of worship, are there other things I should be considering to bridge the “language gap?”
In the confusion of the situation with the seven year old there were statements that dictated, and questions that weren’t understandable. Finally the right question was asked that provided clear direction about what should be done next.
Sometimes the people of God ask the wrong questions. Asking someone is they have been filled with the Holy Spirit makes no sense whatsoever to someone who then is wondering “What is the Holy Spirit?” Jumping over “A” to get to “B” doesn’t work very well.

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One Comment on “Different Languages”

  1. Bob Ballance Says:

    Very well put, Bill! Thanks so much. We Christians need to be giving far more attention to the unchurched who stumble in to be present during our services. The language and much of what we do is a barrier. Yet often the “mission field” is right under our noses. Thanks for your blog. Bob Ballance, First Baptist Boulder, CO.


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