Have you ever tried to learn a foreigner’s name? If you’ve tried to show kindness to someone who speaks a different language, you’ve probably struggled to learn their name. You can’t even visualize how it would be spelled. The same struggle would probably arise if you try to learn a Scripture verse in another language. It just doesn’t stick!
Or think about this: If you’ve had the unhappy occasion of hearing someone shout an obscenity or a blasphemous expression in another language, you may have noticed—if you understood what they said—that the offense doesn’t sink in quite so deeply. What a contrast when we hear the Lord’s name taken in vain or hear some sort of English profanity! We don’t even like to repeat to someone else what we heard, because the offense is so strong. Nevertheless, when it comes to expressions in a foreign language, we feel almost nothing. The expressions just don’t sink in deeply!
Let me bring up one more language experience. Imagine you are trying to compliment a relative for how they’ve lost a significant amount of weight and are looking quite fit. What word would you use to compliment them—skinny, slender, or thin? “You look so …!” If you are a native English speaker, you know that those words all have the same basic meaning, but each elicits quite different emotions. Only one of those words is going to communicate your heart correctly. The other words just don’t fit the context.
Using Your Language Natively
All of the above language experiences help us understand the significant impact our own language has upon our heart. When we memorize Scripture in our own language, the words stick. When we hear offensive things from others, the inappropriateness of those expressions sinks in deeply—much deeper than we want, actually. When we think about which synonym to use in a certain context, we can often pick out the right one, or if we don’t, we quickly realize what we did wrong. Our language fits us like our favorite old shoes that conform so well to our feet. We would never want to wear another person’s pair of shoes for something major, like running a race or touring an extensive city.
Giving Others Access to God’s Word Natively
If we wouldn’t want to walk through life wearing another’s pair of shoes, then we shouldn’t expect speakers of other languages to enter into and walk through the Christian life via a language they don’t understand very well. We want the truths of God’s Word to stick fast in their memory. We desire that the text’s emotions sink deeply into their hearts. We long for them to grasp the fine nuances of the word choices so that they can discern truth from error.
Establishing Truly Native Churches
Ultimately, we want people in these other language groups to grow up into mature Christians and church bodies. Their churches should become indigenous and stable without missionary support. Mission strategists have told us that for such to be the case, churches need to be three things: self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. I suggest that we add a fourth: self-interpreting. Churches can be stable for many years only if they can interpret the Bible on their own without having to work through another language. They will grasp the truths well and will be able to apply them with discernment.
That’s why at Baptist Mid-Missions we believe very strongly in the importance of doing Bible translation for language groups that don’t currently have good access to God’s Word. We help language groups get the Bible into their own language so that the truths stick, the emotions sink deeply, and all the nuances are well grasped. Only with such a resource can they become truly capable of interpreting natively for their people.
Ask BMM about Bibles International if you’d like to join us in helping these language groups have truly indigenous churches in all respects.