The role of language in cross-cultural mission


When reading the 6th chapter of Storti’s The Art of Crossing Cultures, I start to realize the important role of leaning languages in a different culture in the mission. Besides what was told in the book, I think language learning can also bring following benefits.

1. Studying local languages can make the local people feel being respected and show also the respect to local culture. From my experience, foreigners who can speak a little Chinese, or even some local accent, can draw people’s interest and people are more willing to listen to him. Such respect can quickly draw two parts closer and make the gospel message easier to be heard.

2. Studying local languages can make connection with local people, which might be the first connection with local community. The first Chinese Protestant was the worker who helps to print the translated booklet. It is because he works day and night so closely with Morrison. While I was in the university, I have seen many Chinese students coming to Christ because the missionaries had practiced Chinese with them and be their good friends.

3. In many restricted countries, English newspapers are made specific for foreigners. The ability to read local newspaper and Internet forum in local language can help the missionaries understand local culture and current problems more accurately. For example, President Bush’s speech in Tsinghua University was truncated while publishing in Chinese newspapers in Mainland China but full-text on English newspaper. The deleted part is a section talking about Christianity. If the missionary can read both and know the difference, he can surely better communicate to his non-believer friends about this speech and help them to know more about Christ.

I believe there are more benefits besides the listed ones. But I think showing respect and interest, and making local connection are the most important ones. Tim Keller said you must love your city while serve the city, you can’t just think to change the city without loving it[1]. It can also apply to cross-cultural ministry, you can’t only think about changing the people in the culture without love toward it. And learning the language is one of the basic ways to show love and interest.

[1] Church Planter Manual, page 21, Redeemer Presbyterian Church