This past Sunday, our church hosted an all-day retreat. It consisted of a series of discussions and demonstrations on the general topic of evangelization.
The presenters spent considerable time researching their topics and creating attention-grabbing graphics and visuals to engage the audience.
Each of the speakers appeared enthusiastic for their part in the event. They spoke confidently and provided plenty of data and justification for their recommendations and viewpoints.
As the day drew to close, I almost felt compelled to apologize to each of them. Their efforts, for the most part, were lost on me. I barely understood a thing.
Language is not the only barrier
Of course, the entire retreat was presented in Spanish, my (distant) second language. Even after years of living in Guatemala, I have trouble discerning some words and local expressions.
Part of the problem is my hearing. Even in English, I have trouble hearing people using a microphone, especially if there is an echo. Every “P” word sounds like a hip-hop beat and every “S” sound like the static of a lost television signal.
Then there is my wandering mind. When I lived in New Jersey, our Presbyterian services allowed for a 15-minute sermon. That was it. Yet, I could barely get through one without going off on a tangent in my head.
Imagine how far my brain can travel during a 40-50-minute Latin-American Evangelical sermon… or a retreat class.
Not all was lost!
Yet, Yesenia and I continue to attend Spanish-language church services, retreats, and a number of other events on a regular basis. You might ask why I bother.
I continue to go because, despite the barriers to my understanding, not all is lost.
There are events I can follow better than others. I can almost always pick out keywords and the subject matter. Sometimes those words send me off on a mind-wandering journey that becomes my own little sermon.
If I have written a blog or preached about the topic before, I can review mentally what I wrote and believe. I might spend time thinking about how I would present the issue if I was teaching.
One thing I can always pick up is Biblical passages. If the pastor says, “en Diego, Capitulo tres, 14-15”, I can read the passage (James 3:14-15) in my English-language Bible. That helps me follow the lesson in Spanish, or it could prompt another mind-wandering personal adventure through the Bible.
At the very least, I usually pick up enough to ask Yesenia on the ride home if I understood something correctly. This has prompted some great conversations about our faith and more.
There’s a lesson there somewhere, isn’t there?
There is a point to this other than sharing my embarrassing faults and maddening inability to master a second language. It is this:
Even though I couldn’t understand much of what went on yesterday… and even though I couldn’t even hear much of what was shared… and even if it looked like I wasn’t paying attention sometimes… I got a lot out of listening to God’s Word.
By the end of the day, I had thought deeply about my faith, how to better share my faith, and barriers to receiving the Word. This blog and another wrote themselves.
None of that would have happened if the presenters decided I was too language-challenged, too deaf, or too aloof to invite to the event.
Making disciples of all nations…
Jesus charged us with showing Love and spreading the Word to everyone. Throughout the Bible are examples of Jesus delivering sermons to thousands and thousands of folks. We all know how 5,000 were fed in just one day of his ministry.
But when Jesus left the Apostles to start the church, it barely numbered in the hundreds.
Jesus didn’t pick out the people he knew would become followers to speak to. He didn’t cure only those He thought would understand the Word. He didn’t pick the most desperate or favor the most attentive.
He shared his grace and salvation with everyone in his path.
Then, the Apostles grew the church with some surprising converts. Philip baptized the rich eunuch he happened upon on the road. Paul and Silas brought in the jailer charged with keeping them imprisoned.
Yet how many times have you and I decided it’s “not worth” talking to someone about being a Christian?
How many times have we decided someone is too rich, too distracted, too young, too old, too nasty, too smart, or just not smart enough to have a conversation about faith with?
How many times have we unwittingly ignored someone longing to be included?
Stop wasting time!
This week, God used my own situation to tell me I should stop wasting time searching for people “ready” to hear about Christ.
My prayer is that I can do it. That I stop thinking about “whether” to should share God with someone, and just get to it.
God put all sorts of people in our lives… and they all need to hear about Him.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to ALL creation!” -Mark 16:15