This post is my own response to an article in “Askamissionary.com”
“What do Missionaries wish they had known before they first went?”
“I wish I had known about language learning and missionary relationships.”
There is a simple rule. If you are bad at a language, you will probably be bad at every additional language you learn. In my 30 some years of missionary work, I have seen missionaries come and go (return home). I have seen missionaries stay on the field for decades, and never speak the language well (and to the detriment of their ministry). What determines if a person does well learning another language can be resumed in a few points.
- Do they know language well to begin with? Do they know their own language well? Grammar and all? If not, don’t expect much learning another language.
- Are they diligent and careful students? If they like to learn, they will probably do well. If they are impatient and get frustrated easy, they won’t.
- Are they learning the language from educated people in that language? If they are studying in a formal school setting with native speakers that are educated (college or PhD is best), then they will have a better understanding of their new language.
- Are they immersing themselves in the new language or dragging most of their daily conversation back in their home language. Total immersion is best.
- Language learning is a full time job. Don’t cheat it. Devout your complete time for a year or more to it, because short changing language learning will put the rest of your ministry for the rest of your life on a poor level.
For those that don’t know (and most pastors and common church members don’t know this), the world of missions is “dog eat dog”. This is the fault of Christianity in general. We can read about Paul’s missionary team, and we see how they worked “as a team”, and we only dream and wish. Reality is that most missionary relationships are poor or horrible. One of the reasons is because of the lack of spirituality among those missionaries, but that excuse isn’t always the case. The very nature of missions is to go out where nothing is, and start and create a work from scratch. Those who are followers are not given to this task. Only leaders, people who are not afraid to act, decide, and lead are the ones who do this missionary stuff, and do it well. The nature of the work makes taking orders and cooperating a hard thing to do many times.
While I read about Paul and his team, I also remember the Barnabas and Paul split. So from the first century, missionaries have differed as to their understanding of God’s will. We should not be surprised today if that persists.