Every Nation, Tribe, People, and Language
“Do you speak the local language?” “Can you say something in the local language?” These are questions missionaries often get asked when being back in the States. Perhaps the main question that needs to be explored, is why language learning is so important in the first place. As missionaries try to reach the 4 in 10, language learning becomes a crucial aspect of life overseas. There are many ways to learn a language, whether that’s through a private language tutor or attending language school. Through each route, God has opened doors for the gospel to be shared and understood in different languages around the world.
“Language learning is a life-long process.”
Katie*, who has served the Fotizo people and now serves in Central Europe, has learned two languages fluently. She uses both languages to navigate everyday life and build relationships with locals and refugees. She and her husband have learned language through a combination of private tutors and attending language school. Through language learning, Katie has learned the culture and feels at home. It has enriched her ministry.
She shares, “When you can communicate with someone in their mother tongue, that goes right to the heart of who they are. They feel heard, they feel seen, they feel understood, they feel loved. Being able to communicate not only basic life things but being able to go deep with them is so important.”
Katie and Chris host NEXT interns and pass on this same focus of language learning to them. One of their interns this past summer, Gabi*, shared how the team discussed language and culture interactions with one another.
“I didn’t expect my language learning class to be one of the most foundational places of my ministry this summer, but I saw God show up over and over again. And I saw opportunities arise just to have conversations with people, because that’s what language learning is, and that’s what ministry is in a lot of ways.”
While attending language school could be a daunting experience, in the end, it proved to be rewarding, teaching the interns the importance of language learning.
Other missionaries like Jessica*, who is serving in Mongolia, are still learning and navigating the challenges of understanding the language. Through language classes and online resources, Jessica has been learning to speak Mongolian. Many obstacles have come up during their short time in Mongolia, which has made language learning a challenge. Her family has struggled with health issues, education complications, and visa trouble, yet they continue to push themselves to learn the language because they recognize its importance.
“I think language learning is important when you are a guest in someone else’s country. To speak their language is a good guest thing to do. You adapt to cultural rules whether that’s a friend in the U.S. or in a different country,” Jessica said.
While language learning is extremely growing and transformative for missionaries, it is influential for others, too. On the other side of language learning are language teachers—one of the best being Nora*, a woman who lives in Turkic-Arabic Karis. She was initially trained in medicine but became a language teacher, teaching the local language to foreigners. Through some of her students who just happened to be missionaries, she became a believer.
“There are many different careers but for me this work was the way I got to see God in the lives of the believers, something God used in the relationships with my students.”
Language is transformative, relational and filled with opportunities to speak to people’s hearts. Without language learning, the unreached cannot be reached. While it is a life-long process, it is a beautiful process, filled with glimpses of the kingdom of God.
*Names are changed for security reasons.
“After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9