BLOG: Despite my limitations

This article is part of our series, ‘Letters to the Next Generation’, where one of our mission workers explores different aspects of ministering cross-culturally.

By Christina*, a long-term worker

Before our family went to the Arab world, we had many discussions about committing to full-time language study while living abroad. For the purposes of evangelism, the benefits of knowing Arabic seemed obvious. However, we weren’t natural language learners and expected to eventually live in a major city, where many spoke English.

My learning journey

For us, full-time language study was a big commitment and we seriously considered other ways of learning Arabic first, such as taking evening classes and using language software. But in the end, we finally decided that studying Arabic full-time, while living among Arabic speakers, was the best option for us.

The process of language learning was hard. Some people find that when they begin to study for mission purposes, God gives them a gift to learn and flourish in a language. This didn’t happen for me. Lessons were difficult, my brain ached, and I longed to be able to memorise lists of vocabulary. Despite my best intentions, when I finished my studies, I was nowhere near fluent in Arabic. Looking back, I was quite optimistic in the first place!

It’s more than just language

But then the unexpected happened – I had a shift in mindset.

As the Scripture says, ‘In all labour there is profit…’ Proverbs 23:23 (NKJV).

Despite my limited ability to speak Arabic, I had begun to learn how to connect and build better relationships with Arabs.

Mercifully, God showed me that my struggles were not in vain. Over time, I began to learn much more than Arabic vocabulary and grammar. I’d begun to learn about the people, their values, their social structures, and also how they lived out their religion. Despite my limited ability to speak Arabic, I had begun to learn how to connect and build better relationships with Arabs.

Speaking in a foreign land

Thankfully, in the end, God placed us in a dual language city where most Arabs speak English regularly. But when I’ve shared the gospel in English, I’ve found that dropping in a few Arabic words and phrases is really helpful in getting the message across, because so much meaning can get lost in translation. In daily conversation I do the same. I regularly find myself using the conversation skills that I learned in language class, such as conducting small talk, reading Arab body language, choosing appropriate topics, and even arguing persuasively.

Final thoughts

When I reflect on my eight years in the Arabian Peninsula so far, I think that the level of insight I have gained from committing to full-time language study at the start, would be almost unachievable from evening classes or language software.

Although I doubt I’ll ever be as fluent as I would like, I’m firmly convinced that God can take whatever skills and effort we offer Him and use them for His glory among the nations.

Interested in exploring your next step in cross-cultural mission? Contact Dan, one of our mobilisers to explore the best options for you.

*Name changed to protect identities.

This article was originally shared in our quarterly magazine Link in November 2018.

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