If there was anything I learned during my first week of orientation in Africa, it was the motto: language learning is ministry.
Sound familiar to anyone?
We were immersed into culture, and began the language learning process our first week on the field. Brought to a rural village, with local housing, local food and lots of local language, we began our cross-cultural adventure.
As a team, we learned and began to practice the LAMP (Language Acquisition Made Practical) method of language learning, and thus the motto became stuck in my head.
It was a good thing, because it’s no easy feat to learn a language!
Take an introverted, North American farm girl, plop her into the African bush and get her to take a language walk, everyday, to practice the phrases that she’s learned.
It was a recipe for humility...and some much needed self-awareness.
There were a handful of times my husband used the ‘kick-her-butt-out-the-door’ method, but stepping out was hard, every time, because I would have rather hid inside my house.
But the motto would ring in my head...
Language learning is ministry.
So, the convictions that led me to Africa would lead me out the door, to embrace my awkwardness in meeting new people and the trepidation of practicing new words in a new tongue.
After a few weeks, it was time for me to practice numbers. I remember it was harvest season, so most of the young, able bodied people were out at their rice fields from dawn til dusk. This changed the dynamic of my language walk, as I encountered most of the elderly, who stayed behind because they couldn’t work, and to watch the young kids.
I dutifully stepped out and began my walk, and grandma after grandma applauded me (yes they actually clapped for me) as I practiced my numbers with them.
I felt like a toddler, counting for the first time. I felt humiliated.
Learning reminds us that we don’t know everything.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a recovering perfectionist, but it can be so hard to put ourselves in the position of needing to learn. There is so much we can learn and need to learn as we engage in a new culture, even as we become parents and learn to care for our children, and as we continue to learn the Scriptures.
The learning doesn’t stop.
Accepting what we don’t know is one side of the coin, the other is our heart attitude, whether we are willing to learn, willing to be humbled, willing to make mistakes.
Equipped with a new perspective, we begin to see the world as life-long learners.
Learning reminds us of the need for child-like faith.
I would’ve considered myself smart. I would have thought of myself as accomplished. And here I was, sitting beneath the palm trees with the elderly, practicing my numbers like a child, with my insides roiling at feeling so silly.
I could have thrown my hands up, stomped off and wallowed in my child-likeness. But then I remembered that Jesus accepts those of us who come to Him as children; un-abandoned, jubilantly unaware at times, and oblivious to any expectations.
What freedom to enjoy the journey, when we experience it with the eyes of a child.
Learning reminds us to value the people around us.
See, the older ladies didn’t see this North American girl and scoff, or laugh. They meant to encourage me, and affirm me. They were proud that I would take time to be with them and learn their language. It was only me who felt small.
We can enter developing countries with the idea that we have all the answers. It’s an easy trap to fall into because we have education, research and experience. We feel like we have so much to offer, and so many methods to “fix” the problems.
As we step out and begin to accept and learn from others, we see the lives around us, and begin to value their role in our life. We become better positioned to serve them.
It’s the people in your life, today, that need you; your touch, your love, your voice.
We can step back from all the “problems” that we see, and begin to experience the joy in relationships that we build along the way.
I remember the journey of language learning and what it taught me about myself. As I continue learning in my seminary studies, it’s easy for those same hang-ups to creep back in, making me feel small. I remember then, the purpose and conviction that put me in that place, for that season of learning. I remember the childlike faith that Jesus asks of me today, and step forward in His grace, and to find joy in the relationships that I am building along the way.
What is your experience of learning?