I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized, and they all started shaking their heads “Yes”!
“Wait a minute,” I thought, “let me make sure they are saying what I think they are saying.”
You see, I was still learning Portuguese, and Portuguese is also a second language for these children. They speak Changaan at home, but school is taught in Portuguese because Mozambique had been colonized by the Portuguese. I had these illustrated Bible story posters with the story written in Portuguese on the back of the big, colorful illustration. I would practice reading the stories in Portuguese, and the other missionaries told me my pronunciation was good, so they asked me to teach the children on Wednesday nights. The truth is, I could read the words and pronounce them well, but at times I didn’t comprehend what my own mouth was saying as I read the story to the children.
Sometimes having good pronunciation can get you into trouble because people think you have better language skills than you actually do. The other night for example, two babies came to class with their older siblings, who looked to me to be about 6, and just as the class was starting, a baby toddled out into the dark night. I tried to ask the children to go get her, but in my panic, my high school French popped into my mind instead of Portuguese, and the children all just looked at me blankly! It’s as if my brain has a foreign language switch, and when I’m panicked, trying to think of a word in the new language I’m learning, instead, my brain supplies the word from a language I haven’t studied for years, sometimes a word that I wouldn’t be able to think of if I were trying! I’m curious as to whether this happens to other people, or is my brain broken?
After I realized that I had used French instead of Portuguese, I corrected myself, and the big brother went to retrieve the baby. After the story ended, I asked if any of the children wanted to accept Jesus and be baptized.
They all started nodding their heads and saying, “Yes!” I was super excited, but not quite sure they understood. It would have been great to just baptize them all and report the wonderful results to our supporters; but instead, I questioned them further, finding out that many of them had already been baptized, and things were not exactly as they seemed on the surface.
Most of the time these days, I’m not trying to communicate in a second language, but do I still make the same kind of mistakes? I make a judgement, based on someone’s brief response, not really taking the time to ask questions and make sure they understood what I meant, and maybe I plow forward based on mistaken assumptions, not taking the time to get to know people or listen to them because I have an agenda for them.
Jesus, on the other hand, took the time to walk, talk, and eat with people. He didn’t push an agenda, but he asked what they wanted, sometimes even when the answer seemed obvious. He spent time daily with his disciples, teaching them by example and with stories and conversations. I need to be reminded to slow down and listen to people. It’s not all about my agenda for them. Maybe they don’t need what I think they need, and I won’t know unless I let go of my agenda for them and listen.