Every Tribe, Tongue, and Nation: Learning Another Language

May 15, 2019

Standing in the dry heat of a desert, surrounded by dun-colored mountains, desperately wishing that I could communicate with the children we were serving was the moment I first seriously considered learning Spanish. I was on a mission trip to Mexico. Not knowing Spanish as challenging as we served alongside long-term missionaries to an indigenous people group. After the trip, I began studying but quickly gave up. The following year, when I returned to Mexico, I began praying for God to give me a vision for why I should learn another language, especially considering how incredibly difficult and time-consuming it is. Then I observed that the children were fascinated and delighted by the personal, Spanish dictionary I had made for myself in preparation for the trip. They tittered as we tried to communicate with them in our broken Spanish. I learned that the women of the tribe were grateful that our team attempted to speak with them in Spanish as opposed to using the interpreter as other teams had done. What was it about our meager attempts to speak Spanish that touched them so?

Then the thought occurred to me that in the garden of Eden, sin brought brokenness between man and God, man and woman, and man and creation. The chasm between people deepened at the Tower of Babel when God confused the peoples’ language. The Gospel is a healing of brokenness not only between man in his sin and a righteous God, but a means of healing between people. To learn another language is a picture of the Gospel—it crosses the divide between differing cultures. It is a deliberate, visible, or rather audible, attempt to reach out to another people. This was a reason to begin the process of learning another language.

Practicing speaking a newly acquired language requires much humility. You end up getting corrected a lot. I had learned a new word from a Spanish-speaking lady at an amusement park. The next day I Googled it to be sure of what I had been saying. I realized to my horror that I had mangled the word and had been yelling an expletive on all the rides. So goes the journey of language acquisition. The process is slow and laborious. Learning Spanish has forced me to step outside of my American frame of reference and learn the beauty of another culture, another way of relating to the world, and there see a new way that God displays His glory. The sentence structures and idioms are unlike English and remind me of the myriad of ways humans express their thoughts. I now see many Spanish-speaking people in my travels whom I would have ignored before as the wall of Babel was too great to climb. Becoming multi-lingual can open up opportunities to serve and show the love of Christ to non-English speakers. The woman and children with whom we spoke in Mexico may have sensed the significance of what we were doing, even if we did not. We were only thinking in the practical terms of being able to talk to them.

As a classical homeschooling mother, my children are pressing into the marathon of learning Latin and, until my trips to Mexico, that was enough. I have since learned that we have a unique opportunity, because of the autonomy of homeschooling and the excellent basis that Latin gives, to be a part of God’s healing work between people groups. It is our Christian privilege to use our time, energy, and resources to serve those even outside of our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. That is the Great Commission—“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Bauticenlos en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espiritu Santo . . . ” (Mateo 28:19 NIV, NBV).

Karen Harris

Karen Harris

Karen is the mother of 11 children: 6 boys, 3 girls, and 2 step-daughters.  She has been homeschooling for the last 20 years. She and her husband Wes live in Maryland where Karen spends her days pursuing the Good, True, and Beautiful with her children through learning together and having as many adventures as she can find. Karen has a passion for helping women live radically for Jesus and has been able to serve women by leading the women’s ministry at her church, teaching at conferences, leading Bible studies, and counseling. When she has a free moment, she reads books, tries to learn Spanish, and runs with her dog in the woods.   

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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