(thinking) How in the world am I ever going to preach in this language?! And how beautiful are my feet if my mouth is incapable of communicating the Gospel?!
We (missionaries) used to flip to Romans 10 to inspire ourselves during the long season of support-raising. These days we eye these verses with suspicion, wondering if we could ever have beautiful feet.
Imagine two parents working 40-50 hours a week while taking care of their children who are also experiencing culture shock. Imagine being a surgeon or a pilot and then going to class only have your teacher bewildered that you do not know what a present participle is. Imagine being a super-relational, shepherding type forced to understand, hear and mimic the tones in a tone language…for 3 years straight. Imagine carrying your sick, complaining child through the snow so that you can get to class in time only to sit there and struggle to pick up even one word from an audio recording produced in the early 1900s. Imagine taking a four-day test on which your teachers intentionally put questions that they knew would not know. And then imagine failing that test and thus being forced to stay in the country for another 6 months to pass that level. Or imagine walking into the middle of the African wild with a pencil and paper and trying to write down a language with clicks and tones…oh and do not forget to home-school the children!
Missionaries face a great temptation to feel like they will never grasp their new language (and their professors and missions agencies might have their doubts as well). Some missionaries enter the field in their 60s and are expected to keep up with the others in their 20s. Some missionaries simply cannot hear the rising and falling in pitch in tonal languages. Others practice and practice a particular sound in the language for years and are still incapable of mimicking it. And the result is that they are not understood by the nationals. Others fear having to write yet another newsletter saying that they are going to have to extend their time in language school. These things are discouraging and can often lead to skepticism or paralysis. You missionary friends likely struggle daily with thoughts of “why bother studying, it does not make a difference anyway.”
Proverbs 14:23 says “In all toil there is profit.” Pray that your missionaries would toil and labor and trust that there will be profit even when they cannot see it. Pray that they would keep learning those vocabulary words even when they feel like nothing is changing. Pray that they would know when they should put relationships in the States aside to go talk like a child with a national. Pray that your missionaries would be even more stubborn then they already are, more determined, more skilled in not listening to their emotions. Pray that they would have the mentality: “Language X or death.” Pray they would not give up until they are understood.