Dave and I graduated from The Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics both with Masters in Bible translation. We are thrilled to be done and tremendously grateful for this institution that has equipped us well for the task of Bible translation.
And yet in this season of accomplishment and relief, the Lord through his Word reminds us that his calling is higher than just letters behind our names. Paul says that even IF we speak multiple languages, if we speak them with loveless hearts, we are simply obnoxious. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). IF our courage leads us to give away earthy possessions and even die for the sake of the Gospel, but we do it out of duty rather than love, we have accomplished nothing. “I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
Dave gave an 8 minute speech to his fellow graduates at graduation reminding us that we do not want to be found before King Jesus credentialed, educated, but without love in our hearts.
Here is a transcript of his speech:
I am honored to be able to speak with you all today. I am excited to arrive here, and to be at the end of a long degree program. And I realize that for many of us, though his is an end, it is also a very big beginning. A beginning of a brand new life for some of us, and for others a new role in life, whether that is here in America, Africa, Asia and all over the world. When we first left GIAL to go to the field in 2013, we learned that there is a big shift that happens when you leave the season of school to enter the season of real life. When you are in school your schoolwork is under the scrutiny of your professors. But when step out into the world, your whole life is under scrutiny from the whole world. So you have churches from America that are looking on, and you have nationals in another country that are looking onto your life, and you have governments that have an opinion about what you do. They are looking at your methodology, your theology, your family, and your faith. It all gets questioned and sometimes it gets criticized.
Thinking about this, earlier this year I came across an encouraging quote from former President of the US, Teddy Roosevelt. He said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt
I like this quote for us as the graduating class of 2018 for a number of reasons. I like it because I know that I am looking into the faces of the men and the women in the area, marred by dust and sweat and blood. I like it because the truth is, we make mistakes, and we fall short, and we sin against people. But Roosevelt’s words give us an answer back to those criticisms that we hear throughout the years and spurs us to keep going in spite of them.
But I think there is something missing from what Roosevelt said as well. His response at the end of the day to the critic is, “Well, at least I dared.” Which is great and needs to be said. But for you, graduates of GIAL, I am not at all afraid that you will find yourselves among the cold and timid souls. I don’t think that there is a danger that you will ever be anything but courageous.
And it is not surprising that graduates of GIAL would be courageous. We hardly have any other choice. I mean, what other school can you go to where the librarians have killed pythons and endured attacks by gorillas. And as I look at you, and consider your futures, I see lives full of courage. You here are some of the most courageous people I have ever met. And I am not afraid that you will not dare to do great things.
I am also not concerned that you will go out into the world and be anything but academically rigorous. We have trained here under some of the best minds of this generation. And they have taught us to work as hard and as faithfully as they do. I know that I am looking into the eyes of people that have not only braved terrorist attacks, but also passed Advanced Grammar. And you still want to work in Bible translation.
I am not afraid that we will be cowards, nor that we will be fail academically. But I also do not think that it is enough to respond to our critics that we have dared. Or that we have proven ourselves academically.
Paul warns us of a greater danger. He actually tells us that even in daring greatly, we can fail. He said, speaking to the church in Corinth:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
You see as we go out, most of us will give up a lot. And we will struggle to learn new languages. We will write linguistic papers, help document languages of underrepresented people. Many of us will feed the poor, fix broken bodies, and translate God’s Word. And we will know loss, the death of friends and colleagues. And some us will even die for the name of Christ. And to do these things will require of us great courage and skill. But if Paul was here with us today, I think he would remind us that we can do all of those amazing things, but if it is done without love, we have gained nothing. And a claim to have dared greatly will ring empty.
Just so that we do not mistake courage, or excellence for love, Paul helps define love for us in that same passage. He says,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
It almost seems silly, doesn’t it? As though we are children that need to be reminded to play nicely. And yet, we do need to hear it, don’t we? Some of us are going into places where people really do not want us to go. We will have battles without, and we will have battles within. I have heard that the number one reason that missionaries come home is conflict with other missionaries. And so, I think we would do well to listen to Paul.
I think that the early church listened to Paul. There was an early Christian author named Tertullian who wrote about the church in those years after Christ’s death. He said that when the Romans talked about the Christians they said, “Look how they love one another and are ready to die for each other.”
Of all of my hopes and dreams for us, the 2018 graduating class of GIAL, the greatest of these dreams is that when the Americans, Cameroonians, or Afghans that we work with remember us, that they will say “Look how they love one another and are ready to die for each other.”
Roosevelt said that the man in the arena, “at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and…at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” I think that if we add loving greatly to our daring greatly, we will find that we cannot fail.