Serve Blog — July 2022

Part Three in our series on The Crucible—missionaries’ critical transition period during their first term on their field.

We’ve established that the first years on the field are difficult. Through preparation and resources like Safe Haven for Missionary Soul Care, you can thrive through the “Crucible.” The most important promise to remember is God’s presence, a promise Christ builds into His Great Commission (Matt 28:20).

For foreign missionaries, a crucial matter that often determines if they will survive the Crucible or not is acquiring the new language. You will be tempted to fast-track this step for quicker involvement in ministry. Besides, you will tell yourself, you have prayer letters to send home. You need to feel like you’re accomplishing something. This is a critical juncture. You absolutely cannot sacrifice that which controls your ability to stay on the field and make a lasting difference – acquiring the language of the people. For this reason, language acquisition must be your primary ministry during your first term.

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Five inescapable realities on the importance of acquiring the language

Lack of fluency in the local language contributes to missionary attrition.

Missionaries leave missions ministry for many reasons. One of the avoidable reasons missionaries quit is their failure to “get” the language. As a new missionary on foreign soil, you must submit yourself to the tutelage of native speakers and the accountability of teammates to help you achieve fluency. Therefore, most BMM teams have a system to help a new team member measure his or her level of language competency. Only after reaching appropriate milestones should the new missionary take on more ministry responsibilities. Not involving others in this process will only cause you to enter full-time ministry too early, which may lead you to becoming ineffective, discouraged, and ready to quit.

Acquiring the language is required to adjust to the new culture.

Not only is language acquisition a practical reality for effective service, but it also has a major effect on the entire adjustment process. You must take the time to understand how people think and why they do what they do. Why does a culture value what they value? What makes them tick? Understanding and accepting these cultural realities leads more and more to one’s ability to become accustomed to it and to thrive in it. The aspects of a language, things like grammar, syntax, and idiomatic expressions, are keys to understanding that culture. The missionary committed to acquiring the language will realize that culture and language are inseparable.

Acquiring the language is important to feeling at home in your new place of service.

One of the crises you will face in the Crucible is feeling like you don’t belong. Not being able to communicate with neighbors, store clerks, and customer service representatives will leave you with an uncomfortable distance and sense of helplessness. We all yearn to feel settled in the places God puts us. Taking the time to gain fluency in the language is vital to gaining a sense of belonging.

Acquiring the language is important for the entire missionary family.

All that we’ve said applies to each member of the family. The process of acquiring the language may look different for each person in the family. Seek counsel from teammates, experienced missionaries, and local friends to develop each person’s path toward gaining the language. If you don’t, those in the family that fail to be able to communicate and establish relationships with those around them will feel frustrated and detached. This may lead to the entire family needing to leave the field. More positively, ministry is more effectively done together. Consider the value of reaching the people as a team.

Acquiring the language is essential to clearly communicating God’s Word.

In His providence, God has chosen to reveal Himself in human words, through language. Christ commands us to “teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” As you speak on behalf of God to souls He desires to save, you must learn to communicate in words, sentences, sounds, and syntax that makes sense to your hearers.

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With His presence and for His glory

His glory motivates us to commit ourselves to diligently acquiring the language of the people we are seeking to reach. This effort will be crucial in thriving through the Crucible. Remember Christ’s words, “Lo, I am with you always!”

Gravley family

Travis Gravley

Administrator for Church Relations and Enlistment

Travis Gravley & his wife Becky are former missionaries to Romania. He serves as BMM’s Administrator for Church Relations and Enlistment. Contact him at to learn more ways to serve.

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