My struggles attempting to learn Spanish are well documented. I have tried and tried, but with only limited success. I could make excuses, but that wouldn’t change anything. I think that my motives are pure: I want to be able to communicate with my Spanish-speaking brethren. But again, I’ve had limited success. One of my major struggles is that there are so few opportunities to practice. So, much to the annoyance of my family, if I encounter someone who is obviously a native-Spanish speaker, I strike up a conversation. Sometimes this goes well, sometimes it does not. But in those attempts, this is something I have noticed almost every time: they appreciate me making an effort to speak their language!
Think about this: very few of us are ever placed in an environment where we can’t be understood or understand the language spoken around us. Most of us, even if we do travel outside the US, will be surrounded by others who speak English, or in the touristy areas where the signage and guides are bilingual. Most of us never experience the isolation, fear, and loneliness of being surrounded by people who cannot communicate with us—and don’t care! A couple of months ago I encountered a couple in Food Giant who were obviously latino. Their skin, their clothing, their mannerisms, and their speech all cried out that they were from somewhere else, and that they had not been here for very long. Here’s the point (finally): the realization came to me that they were terrified by this new environment.
Imagine seeing this couple in the store. YOU aren’t going to go up to them and strike up a conversation. THEY aren’t going to come up to you and strike up a conversation. And if they did, would you be critical of their sentence structures or pronunciations? Even if you did not openly criticize their language, your facial reaction would likely tell the tale.
Now let’s bring this all into the church building. Jesus did not say, “Go into all the world and invite people to church.” I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but we’ve somehow gotten into the mode/habit/mindset that that is what we’re supposed to be doing. But if we are successful in doing that, are we bringing them into an environment where they don’t speak the language, and their attire, their body language, everything about them says that this isn’t where they are from? The result will be the same: they will be terrified. I don’t know about you, but I’m not big into going back to places that have scared the bejeebers out of me.
Maybe that’s why Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”