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  • David Osteen

Language Barrier


I was talking with a very dear preacher friend of mine the other day who is trying to learn Spanish. There have recently been some members start attending the congregation where he attends that are fluent in Spanish, and in order to better communicate with them he is making an effort to learn the language. I respect and admire that decision because in the long run it should allow him to communicate the gospel message more effectively to individuals that he currently can not really reach out to.


When one is learning a new language it is a very frustrating process. It doesn’t happen overnight and it takes are true commitment to dedicate one’s time and energy to learning a new tongue. There are many people who wish they could learn another language. There are others who actually begin to learn but fail because of the proper dedication. Yet still others learn the basics out of necessity (like to pass tests at school) never to really obtain a working knowledge of the language. And then there is the minority that takes on the task of learning a new language with full devotion and will to achieving a level of knowledge that is useful.


From my personal experience, I was one who went through all of those stages. First I was just a young boy who wished he could speak another language. Later in school and at work I learned just enough to get by. I learned just enough to pass my Spanish classes or have minimal conversations with others at work. It wasn’t until I fell in love that I truly dedicated myself to learning the language. Then the motivation was different. It was strong, internal, and rewarding. The more I learned the more obstacles I had to overcome. I had to learn vocabulary, grammar, dialects, expression, voice, pronunciation, conjugation each with its own intricate unique difficulties. One of the most discouraging things though, was that even when I was learning the language I had a hard time speaking with, and understanding, others whose native tongue was Spanish. Some people I could understand perfectly while others I simply could not understand (and they could not understand me) no matter how hard I tried.


That, I think is one of the biggest reasons people begin to learn a new language but then they stop. It is so discouraging to work so hard to learn the language only to discover people cannot, or have a very difficult time, understanding you. I know many times I’d be visiting with brethren at church and I would just feel a sense of hopelessness because I could not get them to understand what I was saying. Sometimes it was so discouraging that I’d almost give up, until I realized that if I gave up it would damage my ability to communicate with the one I loved the most… my girlfriend (who later became my wife). She did understand me. She did appreciate what I was doing. She made it all worth it. If there is one piece of advice I’d give to my preacher friend and to all those trying to learn another language it would be, “Don’t let those you can’t communicate with discourage you from communicating with those that you can communicate with.”


I think the concept is the same in communicating the gospel with others. Often times we get frustrated at communicating the gospel because no matter how hard we try some people just don’t understand. We let that discouragement affect our sharing the gospel with others who might understand. Instead of just giving up, we need to realize that we can’t make others understand, we just have to do the best we can at explaining the truth, and if their soil is rich and their hearts are right then they will understand. (Luke 8:4-18) I believe one of our greatest fallacies as Christians is letting those we can’t communicate with discourage us from communicating with those we can communicate with (Matthew 10:14; Acts 13:51) ; and when we do, we may be giving up on the one we should love the most… God and His word.


In reality for us as Christians, it is not a language barrier that prevents us from talking to others about the gospel… it is a confidence barrier, or love barrier, or a barrier of fear. Make an effort to identify your barrier, and work hard to overcome it. Just because we can’t reach everyone doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reach anyone. If the Apostles or early disciples had that attitude then where would we be today?


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