We are midway through our language acquisition training at CIT in North Carolina, being taught how to acquire a language and culture, referred to as “languaculture” because language and culture can’t be separated. While we thought we knew the value of learning the language of the people we are going to live among, we have come to realize in this last week that it’s significantly more important than we really understood.
There is a rating scale used to identify stages of language learning beginning with a 0 and ending with a 5 which means you can speak like an educated native speaker. The average missionary settles at a 2+ which allows you to satisfy most survival needs, routine social demands and work requirements. However, if our desire is to really make an impact, to reach the hearts of the people we are doing life with, we need to pursue reaching at least a level 4. At a level 2+ we can make an impact on the surface but to engage in ministry that leads to true discipleship and transformation of the heart we need to choose to challenge ourselves, to not settle for getting by. It won’t be easy and it will take time which is difficult for our North American mindsets to accept. We want immediate results that are not possible.
We’re also continuing to wrestle with another big challenge we’ll face…a loss of identity. As individuals we are shaped by our home culture which will no longer be sufficient in our new culture. Our preferred, familiar roles change. How we gain affirmation is lost which can cause our emotional resources to run dry. Leaving all familiar relationships that have taken years to establish can cause us to feel lost, like we don’t fit and have no place. We are letting go of our ability to manage some of the most basic aspects of life…a toddler will be able to communicate needs more clearly than we will.
“Starting today you will never really belong to the people you are going to work with or belong fully to the people you are leaving. You will be between people”, a quote from linguistics trainer Dr. Cal Rensch of SIL.
What do we need to remember in the midst of all this? We aren’t able to do this in our own strength…but we don’t have to! “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Our identity is in Christ…“Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20)!
In the midst of this identity loss we are “being transformed by the renewing of our minds through His word” (Rom 12:1). As the stress of this transition reveals the cracks in the foundation of who we are, God will reveal His power in us if we allow it. He is sufficient to carry us through this process. We are blessed to get this opportunity to be dependent upon Him like never before!