Reflection: Connecting Through Language
How God can use the little steps we take to minister to those we serve
On his first mission trip to Yucatan serving with us in the pueblo of Yobain, Jim Darden never knew the lasting impact he’d have when he asked our friend Ruth to jot down the words in Maya to the children’s song, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men.”
Fast forward 14 years later, he’s in a different pueblo (Akil) with a different church team (FPC Lebanon) assigned to help out with Bible stories during VBS. During one session, there was extra time at the end. Parents and little children were staring at us for more. Jim looked at Inez, who was translating, and asked, “What do we do now?”
“How ‘bout you sing “Fishers of Men” in Maya?” It was a big request.
To her amazement, Jim thought about it and said, “I can do that.”
I. can. do. that.
Four simple words. Four very brave words. Yet, in missions these words carry more weight than buckets of concrete or roof beams. Because it reveals an attitude that is intentional, unforced and leads to engagement.
It turned out that only one person, a father, in the group knew the words in Maya so we invited him to sing along with Jim. Inez had taken notice during the week that the father, Pascual, had a serious demeanor about himself and never smiled. She later learned that he had recently lost his young wife unexpectedly, and so his wounds were still fresh.
For him to see an American, and a towering one at that (Jim stands at approximately 6'3"), leading a song in his indigenous language, must have spoken to his heart. It was a moment of reprieve from the heaviness of grieving. What a testament that must have been also for those in attendance who knew of Pascual’s situation. The book of Ephesians speaks about “building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” The Lord ministers to our very core in unexpected ways. He used Jim’s “I.can.do.that” servant attitude to do just that.
So, the lesson we learned from Jim is that the Lord can use the little we know, when put into action, to connect to people at a deeper level than we think. Looking back, we noticed that Jim had a strong desire to connect with the people here in their language. So, he took the following deliberate steps:
1. He asked Ruth to write the words
2. He memorized the words
3. He said "I can do that."
3. He sang the words
But above all, he trusted the Lord with that VBS moment, applied what he’d learned and, in doing so, engaged with the brokenhearted and blessed those who came.
Beware though, once you engage, you'll never know what will happen next. After the farewell service, Jim Darden approached Dora, the Bethel church’s music director, about a hymn he recognized from his childhood. Being a piano teacher, she sensed something. “Do you play the piano?” He responded, “Well, not since I was a boy…” Being a piano teacher, she stopped him in mid-sentence. “Come, sit and play.” And the test was on.
More Stories on making the right connections
But the stories don't end here. During last's month mission week in Akil, the FPC Lebanon team lived out 3 ways that you can engage in the missions field, wherever that may be --overseas or at home.
1. Be courageous and use what you know of language to interact.
From his first morning in Mérida, Pastor Tim was out early in the city square before the rest of the team. He was inquisitive, asking questions in Spanish the best he could and learned quickly about the city. In doing so, he discovered how gracious Yucatecos are and how eager they are to help foreigners. During the week in the pueblo, he held one on one conversations with people of all ages, absorbing everything and jotting them down in his note pad. He immersed his whole being, physically, mentally and spiritually, to connect to others.
Another team member, Dayla, used Google Translate when she didn’t know the right words in Spanish. Patty commented, “What stood out the most about Dayla was the common ground and connections she was able to find in such a short amount of time, even across the language barrier…she formed genuine friendships and continues to correspond with several of the women from the Bethel church and enrolled in Spanish classes once we arrived home to better communicate with them.”
2. Embrace new adventures.
Team leader Patty observed that Debby (right photo above) wanted to experience everything about Mexico – sights, foods, construction techniques, conversations – and jumped right into every opportunity. When a man came by the church offering rides on a bull, both Dayla (left photo above) and Debby ran right out, took turns hopping on and went for a ride down the street. "When Debby came back, we were all so impressed that she just jumped up on a bull like that. She responded, 'That was a bull? I thought it was just an ox!'”
3. Work hard and have fun alongside those you serve.
Patty also shared a funny story about her daughter Kayla (in right photo, center): “She was proud of herself for all the construction skills she’d learned and of how surprised the masons were at how hard she worked. Near the end of the week, they told her she should stay and keep working on the crew and build herself a house. Pastor Armando even offered that they could find her a boyfriend. She answered, 'I don’t need a boyfriend; I can build my own house!' She was then reminded that, up to that point, she actually only knew how to install a cement floor."
Nonetheless, words to live by in faith when out in the mission field? I. can. do. that.