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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Babble On

I had been here six months when I found myself talking with a friend who was not a believer. The only English he spoke was the HTML code he had picked up in a "Web Design for Dummies" class. I had only been studying his language since I arrived on the field, so I could hardly claim to be fluent. As usual, we started off talking about politics. Anarchy, I think, or something else I know nothing about. Then we got to the topic of family. His was very important to him, but he often felt suffocated by their constant dependence on him. He hated always having to help his grandparents and run errands. I say, that's what you get for living at home until you're 32.

Our leisurely discussion explored the limits of my language skills. I've always measured how well I can speak by how much the other person scrunches their face as they work to understand me. In any given conversation, my friend would go from a James Dean to a Gilbert Gottfried. He was at about a Dirty Harry when we got into spiritual things that day, and I was struggling to find the words to express such abstract concepts as forgiveness, prayer, and Vacation Bible School. I started to pray panic prayers when I realized that he was very interested in what I had to say, but that my language level wasn't yet good enough to allow me to communicate.

But something happened as I shared my faith with my friend. Actually, nothing happened, which was strange. We just kept on talking. About knowing our creator, and about fuller life and about purpose. We talked about Jesus, and I shared some of my most personal thoughts about my faith. My friend told me that if he were ever going to believe in a god, that mine was the kind he'd like to believe in. Before our talk, he didn't even know Jesus was a way, much less the way.

It wasn't until I was home, praying for my friend to be haunted by the truth in our conversation, that I realized how un-scrunched my friend's face had been while we talked. My friend had understood me, and he hadn't been distracted by my American accent that often gets in the way. I had said things correctly in a language I had hardly known. We had talked about things I wasn't capable of discussing. I had used words I had never learned. He didn't have to correct me, help me, or ask his usual "What is it that you're trying to say?" He heard Good News in his heart language.

The discussion replayed over and over in my mind that night, like one of those television dramas that frames the flashbacks in hazy, blurry border in order to make them seem more, you know, dramatic. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit spoke for me that day. I'm certain that He gave me words beyond my ability in order to communicate with my friend through me. Something supernatural had happened. Just to keep me humble, I had a miserable experience at a restaurant that night. I didn't get what I thought I had ordered. The waiter didn't understand me.

I don't speak in tongues. I'm not allowed to. IMB policy prohibits me from participating in that sort of thing. It might not have been only the Holy Spirit that helped me, anyway. It was probably more like half Him, and half the intensive language course that I had taken. In fact, maybe I was just having a really good language day that day. I've been praying for more of those every day.

14 comments:

Jacob said...

Man that's funny. That's a nice gentle and subtle slide toward an honest critique of "in-house" policy. Love it. Brave, honest, stretching.

In the past, if it was my conversation I would have tended to look at"that conversation" and say with 100% certainty it was either "the Spirit-speaking-through-me", or (if the conversation went bad) I was "acting in the flesh". But that kind of simplistic, dualistic thinking falls apart for me in todays very complex and random world.

These days I kind of lump things together and throw (a little bit) of logic to the wind. If I have an amazing conversation with someone, I am like, man it's one wild mix of God's Spirit, my rotten flesh, at the same time good long hours of studying language, possibly my friends "eternal cry for home," or the Father calling him to the Son, or spiritual forces in high places, or some luck, or probably a host of other unseen factors and one mix of all of the above.

Where's our theology of random complexity? Emerging? Oopps! Did someone say emergent?

Dorcas said...

I'll give credit where credit is due. I believe the Holy Spirit was working through you.

P W Hatcher said...

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Psalm 115:1 (ESV)

David said...

I think you hit it on the head when you said "I don't speak in tongues". What you gave evidence of was the "Jesus in me" that we all want. When Jesus does the work, we don't really have to do anything - except possibly sit back and be amazed. Praise the Lord for His continual working in and through servants like you.

Darrell Haley said...

Your the best! Keep talking! That is what it is about! Darrell

nolongerbaptist said...

Hmmm... maybe you're only half blogging in the Spirit is only half of the people understand your post. Interesting audience you've collected here. ;)

stepchild said...

nolonger,
Yeah, my new strategy is to be so vague that everyone interprets my posts however they want. You'll notice that no one has rebuked be or anything yet.

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Stepchild,

I love it! "so vague that everyone interprets my posts however they want" That's rich!

I'm thankful if the Holy Spirit enabled you to speak in an unknown (well, partly-known) tongue that day. You won't have any trouble convincing me of that.

Since no one has rebuked you or anything yet, I'll bite. You said that the IMB prohibits speaking in tonues, but IIRC, they don't have any problem with speaking in a known tongue as part of evangelism, which they believe in, like you did. Their problem is with speaking in unknown tongues, which they don't believe in, in worship.

I'm sorry I couldn't make that point as part of a story of my experiences. I'm still a novice here, remember! :)

Love in Christ,

Jeff

stepchild said...

Jeff,
I guess that's what I was saying with my post. I was trying to give some insight into how I have experienced the work of the Holy Spirit here on the field. I wanted to let people know about the difference between "speaking in tongues" as in supernatural communication in a known language vs. an unknown one.

The president of our organization recently sent out a memo warning us that some or our thoughts an opinions might be misinterpretd by the IMB's trustees. Since I was writing about the Holy Spirit working through language, I wanted to be careful to destinguish between the two.

Oh, and nobody worry, I absolutely was not worshipping while the Spirit spoke through me that day.

thouartunwise said...

Keep biting the hand that feeds...so brave in all your anonymous posts - such a coward that you still take a paycheck from those who fund you, even though you spend most your posts slamming them. If you really believed so much in the power of the Spirit, you would withdrawl from the organization, and in faith and trust of the Spirit of God to work in others hearts, would raise your own support. I'd send you a check - it's for your own integrity: and uh, as soon as you step out of the IMB, you can have a glass of wine on me. Cheers!

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear thouartunwise,

I do not agree with your premise that if you disagree with certain of your employer's policies, that you should resign immediately. Do you think that everyone should follow that advice? For whom, then, would anyone work?

Stepchild is not "slamming" the organization, but offering constructive criticism, aimed at making positive changes.

Love in Christ,

Jeff

stepchild said...

thouart,
I'm sorry I offended you. I never meant to speak ill of the organization. I appreciate the people that give sacrificially to support me, and I would never want to be disrespectful toward them.

thouartwiserthanigaveucredit4 said...

you my friend, are more gracious than you appear through your seemingly divisive posts. that's the side of a missionary i'd rather see shining through. thank you.

Just Plain Bill said...

Thouatr...etc., etc., While I have no dog in this fight, why do you hide behind a pseudonym?