Speaking the language of love and service is louder than any spoken word.
My good friend and brother in the Lord Method is an example for all of us to follow. He was our driver while we were in Burundi. He spoke no English, and we spoke no Kirundi, but he found ways to communicate his love for the Lord and his love for us through acts of service. Method drove us through the Burundi hill country on our historic tour, and when we stopped at a church he came in and sang with us and played the drum. When we did not speak the same language, he gave us common words we could use to understand each other and even an inside joke. The road to Abeka, Congo was the worst road Method had ever driven, and some of our team had gone to Abeka before we arrived in Burundi. Whenever we would hit a bump in the road or particularly big pot hole, he would say, “Abeka!” By the end of the trip we would say it too. We didn’t speak Kirundi, and he didn’t speak English, but we knew Abeka meant hold on, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!
When he bought sugar cane for his seven children, he cut some off and gave some to us. When we went shopping in the market, he bought us sweet potatoes so that we could experience that Burundi treat. When we were looking at cloth, he helped us find the best quality. When we were negotiating with the merchants, he would help us get a good price. He showed us all the best places to find fabric, hand-crafts, tools and other souvenirs throughout the market. All with a smile. All with love. All in service to us out of a brotherly love in Christ. He took care that we had safe travel, he protected us in public places. He spoke no English, and we spoke no Kirundi, but we understood his language of service and love.
Megan Frazier taught him how to say, “You are my sister!” and he would say that to us. On the last day our whole team was together, we told him, “Tura kunda Method!” which means “We love Method!” in Kirundi. He was so surprised and shocked that we learned his language just to tell him that we loved him that he laughed with joy and put his face in his hands. When we went, we spoke no Kirundi and he spoke no English, but together by loving each other in the Lord and acts of service and kindness, we found we understood each other just fine.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
There are people in our lives that God wants us to reach for the gospel. Sometimes, though, it seems like they are so different from us that they speak a different language. But we are not to give up. We are not to use their differences as an excuse to walk away and leave them in darkness. Rather, we are to show them the love of Christ in ways that go beyond language and culture. Like the ways that Method cared for us while we were in Burundi. He helped the older ladies out of the van, he helped to carry luggage and tie it down in the trucks and the jeep. He sacrificed some of his income to buy us special treats of sugar cane and sweet potatoes. It is the same way that Christ reached out and healed the sick, fed the hungry, and touched those with leprosy. These actions show caring and love no matter what language you speak or what culture you are in.
When we interact with those who are different from us, we are to even take on their language and culture to show them Christ’s love. In this way, my brother Method would say, “You are my sista!” and we told him, “Tura Kunda Method!” We learned enough of each other’s language to communicate and connect in the most basic way. While we were there, Method wore a stars and stripes jacket, he wanted to show us that he identified with us. It is the same way that Christ came and not only taught mankind in his divine form, no he emptied himself and took on flesh. He lived among us, pitched his tent among us. Christ came and spoke our language and learned our culture to show us his love.
The apostle Paul is telling us in this passage that just like Christ, our goal should be to demonstrate God’s love for mankind in whatever way the people we are with will understand. We need to find out what interests them, what their needs are, what their cultural patterns are so that we can present to them the message of the gospel in a way they not only understand, but are excited to accept.
Dave Robinson at the closing session of Ministry Conference yesterday said this—“The ultimate goal is not missions, or ministry, but worship. We are to be about the business of bringing more people to worship at the feet of our awesome, majestic God.” That is our job. To present God, his love, his mercy, his holiness before people and bring them to a place where they are fellow worshipers with us. That is the great commission, to go into all the world and preach the gospel, to make disciples.
Sometimes we forget that all the world includes our neighborhood. All the world includes our workplace. All the world includes our family. All the world includes every sphere of our life, it includes every person in our life. Don’t let something as small as language and culture differences get in the way of you fulfilling the purpose God has for you—to share the gospel where you are.
I heard an interesting statistic this week. One third of the world is Christian. That is a lot. That is huge. That means that if every Christian were to win two people to Christ who had never heard, we would be done, and Christ could come back. The problem is that not every Christian sees it as his or her job to spread the word. We have lost touch with the Great Commission, and somehow we believe salvation ends with us. But salvation is a cycle where a person gets the gospel, God gets the glory, the person grows to maturity and then repeat. That person shares the gospel, God gets the glory, another disciple grows to maturity and repeat.
The command to go and tell; the statement that we will be his witnesses—they apply to every believer. We are all to tell; we are all to bear witness. No one gets off the hook. And the way we share the gospel is to become like Christ, to put aside our own culture and language and take up those of the people around us. Then we can speak their language, then we can communicate the gospel. Then the message can be embraced and Kingdom of God is built.