The minute you step off the plane and hear everyone talking, but don't understand a word they say...you know your not in Kansas, Dorothy. If you've ever had the experience of traveling solo to another country, you know what I'm talking about. When I traveled to Thailand, for instance, I landed in Bangkok and disembarked the aircraft, making my way through the corridor leading into the terminal. While I was onboard the airplane, I had no worries about communicating. I knew that the crew spoke English, my native tongue, and most of the passengers did as well. However, as I made my way through the airport toward the baggage area and, eventually, to the arriving passenger terminal where buses and taxis were awaiting their fares, those English-speaking people who made my trip across the Pacific easy and comfortable, had now dissolved into the crowds making their way to their destinations. Now, I knew that I may be able to find people who speak English, if I had an urgent need to converse, but, there was no guarantee and no certainty about how well they may speak English. After all...I"m an American, and you know what that means. It can be best summed up in a joke I heard.
What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
What do you call a person who speaks three-languages?
What do you call a person who speaks several languages?
What do you call a person who speaks only one language?
That is a little humorous way of pointing out a truth about us Americans. Most of us only speak English...particularly if we were born and raised in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the most recent statistics tell us that over 80% of adult Americans speak only English, and only about 24% of all Americans speak more than one language. This is in comparison to over 50% of Europeans who speak more than one language. Now, I'm not bringing this up because I want to advocate for more Americans learning a second language (although that isn't a bad idea). Instead, I want to point out something that can be a little more important when it comes to living out our purpose, in the big picture of God's plan. Our lack of multi-language literacy is the result of another phenomena in our culture...ethnocentrism. That is where we are so focused on our own culture that we judge all others in comparison. Often, it leads to prejudices and stereotypical thinking that causes us to separate ourselves from people who are different than us...who speak another language, or look different, or have different customs. We have seen how this phenomena can play itself out in very ugly ways in recent months.
However, if you've ever been in that circumstance of being in another culture and being the one who isn't a native...native-born, native speaker, native race...you know that you can feel very alienated or uncertain about your situation. When I was making my way through the airport, taking the bus to the domestic terminal and finding my way via local taxi to my destination, a coffee shop where I could hang out until my appointment time, I felt alone and isolated. Although I didn't mind this feeling and viewed it as an adventure to be tackled, I could understand how someone who visits the U.S. might feel those same feelings and be isolated, alone and uncertain...if not fearful.
My point is not to raise political issues or question the patriotism of Americans. However, this morning, in worship, I was reminded of something that is prophesied in Scripture. As the worship team led us, and our singing was in multiple languages led by people of multiple ethnicities, I thought of what the Apostle John wrote of his vision in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, prophesying the occurrences of the last days.
And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
My point? In heaven, we will live eternally with those who have been redeemed from all around the world...those for whom Jesus died and His blood was shed for the forgiveness of their sins. These are people from "every tribe and language and people and nation," whom He will make "a kingdom and priests to our god, and they shall reign on the earth."
It is so easy to allow our focus to be so centered upon our own culture, language and "tribe," that we forget that our life-purpose must encompass people of every race, culture and language. We must ask ourselves, "Am I living my purpose in a way that includes every person with whom I can engage?" Especially in our current political and cultural climate, let us honestly evaluate our perspective and allow the Spirit of Christ to work through us to advance the eternal purpose of God for all people of the earth. Anything less is a short-change of what God wants to do through you for eternity. And, the next time you hear someone speaking a language you don't understand, maybe your first response will be to whisper a prayer, asking God to show you how you can be "Jesus" to them.
Have you experienced a cross-cultural situation that reminded you of how God wants to use you to share His love across cultural barriers? Maybe you want to share how God has opened your eyes to the needs of those unlike yourself. I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. And, as always, if you value the content of our blog and podcast, please like and share on social media. We are grateful that you are here!
With over forty years of ministry experience, Randy Kinnick continues to live a life of pursuing the purpose for which he was created. Whether teaching God's Word to adults, coaching youth and young adults in finding their purpose, or caring for the hurting and abused in Southeast Asia, the adventure has taken him around the world in ways he could have never dreamed. The adventure continues!