One cannot address the many cultural adjustments as a missionary planting churches in another country without addressing the most obvious adjustment, the language! A foreign language is the largest adjustment that must be made and is the hardest to overcome. Why? Because learning a new language does not happen over night, nor in a week, month, or even a year. Learning a new language is really a life-long effort. We are learning and will always be learning. Tonight I was with a family talking over a few things that are coming up and I learned two new words. It is just something a missionary must commit himself to. One of the greatest misconceptions I have come across from others is, “Spanish is an easy language.” To speak Spanish correctly, it is anything but easy. There are certainly other languages that are harder, but that doesn’t mean that Spanish is easy. I entitled this post “Say what?” That is basically what you feel like saying for many months. I will start to think I am getting the language and will meet someone who speaks with a slightly different accent or perhaps they slur their words ever so slightly and that little difference becomes near impossible for me to understand. I am a firm believer that learning the language is also the most important adjustment that a missionary must make. Without the language we just cannot communicate effectively. Translators can help, but only so much. It is a beautiful thing to sit down and talk about the truth of Jesus to others in their language and watch them as they begin to understand. In addition to this, living in a country where you cannot understand anyone would be horrible. It isn’t so bad on a vacation or on a 1 1/2 week missions trip. But when someone is trapped inside a place where they are not able to communicate, they cannot adjust to life there! How do you by food, pay bills, answer questions, work through any immigration issues, etc? Learning the language is a must, and it is absolutely worth it. I still have a long, long, LONG way to go, but being I love the fact that I am at the point where I can talk freely and listen freely in this language.
A famous saying here in Argentina was coined by a futbol (soccer) coach named “Mostaza” (meaning “Mustard”) Merlo (he received that nickname because he has “mustard” colored hair). “Paso a Paso.” This saying means “Step by Step”. He was referring to a team he was coaching. They would improve “step by step”. Meaning it is not an overnight thing. It takes time. I realize that in America we also use this phrase, but Mostaza Merlo made it famous here. That is how you adjust by learning the language, “paso a paso”, step by step, little by little.
All the work and struggle to learn the language is worth it!