ONE of the greatest requirements of a missionary is language skills. If you are working as a cross-cultural missionary, without adequate language skills or at least a desire to learn a new language, it is hard or near impossible to communicate effectively.
If you are learning a new language, you must tell yourself ‘I must, I can and I will learn.’ If you decide that it is impossible to pick up a new language, then it will be an arduous task and you will be proved right.
Several years ago, during my college days I was involved in anti-Hindi agitations. Youth easily succumb to mob behavior. I remember joining the agitators and shouting slogans like ‘Thaai mozhi irukka, naai mozhi yedharkku?’ (Loosely translated, it meant why bother to learn a ‘degenerate’ language when you are conversant in your own mother tongue).
I believe God was watching all this from heaven and laughing at me. He must have thought, ‘Wait my child. You don’t know what you are saying.’ If only I had known then that as a worker in His vineyard, I would be forced to learn new languages I wouldn’t have said those words and done those things.
During my post-graduation days, I attended a national conference where most of the participants were from north India. They would speak in Hindi among themselves but whenever I was around, they would switch to English. It was there at the conference that I first felt the need to learn Hindi.
Once I returned to Coimbatore after my graduation, I signed up at a Hindi tuition centre where the faculty was an old woman. I was the oldest guy among the students. Although initially I felt odd, the desire to learn Hindi got the better of my embarrassment. I learned the alphabet and embarked on a serious study of the language when I got a job offer from Chennai and had to leave Coimbatore. Although my Hindi tuition came to an abrupt end, in the 15 days I spent at the centre I had learned the basics of the language. That was in 1991.
Eight years later, when I landed in Rajasthan I was using English and Tamil Bibles for my daily devotion. I was going nowhere in picking up Hindi. After 3 months, I realized that I had to do something if I were serious about learning the language. Desperately, I fasted every morning to seek God’s face and prayed for Him to enable me for the task. Every morning for the next two months, I would put my son Abhishek (then a 7-month-old baby) to sleep and sit in my study with an English Bible and a Hindi Bible. I started from the Gospel of John in English and painstakingly would read the same passage in Hindi. I would read a word in Hindi, note down its English equivalent and its meaning in a diary. After I completed John, I moved on to Matthew, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. In two months, I was able to grasp almost 80% of biblical Hindi.
Later, I would also write down memory verses in Hindi and recite them over and over again. Your spoken Hindi may be good, but if you can also read and write the language then you would be able to form word pictures in mind as you talk or preach.
God gave me a good foundation in reading, writing and so I found it was very helpful to speak. As time went by I was able to translate passages from English, Tamil or Malayalam to Hindi and vice versa. I had almost given up on ever dusting up my knowledge of Hindi leave alone mastering the language. I had even thought to myself that I would have to return to Chennai if I failed to learn Hindi.
I reached Canada on Sept 5, 2009. The next day was a Sunday and I had been invited to preach at a Fiji church. I preached in Hindi and English there. In Canada, my neighborhood had a lot of Punjabis and since I spoke Hindi I was able to relate with them.
God is the giver of languages. So, never despise any language. Don’t make fun of people who speak a language different from yours. God is the father and author of all languages. God’s workers should learn as many languages as possible to have a wide influence on people. Apostle Peter knew only Greek and so God used him among Greek-speaking people. However, apostle Paul knew many languages and hence God used him among several cultures. As a child of God, you must have an open mind and an earnest desire to learn languages and use them for His glory. Jai Masih ki (Praise be to Christ).