An Introduction - 1000 Cups of Tea: Gospel Fluency Across Cultures
My name is Preston Fidler and I want to spend a few minutes introducing you to my book 1000 Cups of Tea: Gospel Fluency Across Cultures. A little about me: I’m a language coach, language learner, and I’m also cross-cultural church planter. I wrote this book from my experience in these roles mostly to encourage and remind co-workers of the reasons we learn language, and why it is such a joy that we get to learn the language of our precious neighbors in order to love them and share the gospel with them. So, there’s a lot about these “why's” for learning language in this book. Probably 70-80%. And that’s on purpose. I want to share mostly about that, and then talk a little about the “how’s” as well.
So, what does 1000 cups of tea have to do with language and the gospel? Well, it all starts with a shift in perspective. When people ask me how long it takes to become fluent, they often think hours, days, weeks, months, or maybe words, phrases, and sentences. I try to reframe this. When you think about it, and pray about it, you begin to realize it’s much more than that.
I think of a time not too long ago when our neighbors Levent and Berrin were in our home for tea. They lived next-door and we often could hear them fight. Levent drank a lot. They dealt with a tremendous amount of brokenness in their lives and marriage. So, as we talked with them in our home that evening, I remembered what I read that morning from Mark 2.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor.” He came to heal the sick, and save sinners like me. And like Levent. Just as God reminded me of the gospel in my life that morning, I had the joy of sharing this with Levent that evening over tea.
Just as message of the gospel was so real and deeply personal as I prayed through it that morning, this was a word of great hope and encouragement to this precious hurting couple that so needed the gospel in their lives.
And I think that’s the whole point of gospel fluency. We have this amazing gift of the gospel that literally flows from our lives and we really want to be fluent to share it with our neighbors in their language. The thing is, we don’t have to wait until we are “fluent enough” (whatever that means). Let’s start with what we have. Loaves and fishes. God works in and through our faithful, humble, joy-filled efforts to share the Good News.
Think of it this way: We don’t have to wait until we learn the language to share the gospel. We GET to share the gospel WHILE we learn the language. That is such a game-changer! We literally enter into our new languages and cultures with the joy of sharing the gospel with our precious neighbors. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and!
One of the early chapters in the book asks the question, "Who is my neighbor?" and taps into what it means to love and share the gospel with our lost neighbors. When people asked Jesus this question he told the story of the Samaritan – a foreigner – who saw this man who had been beaten, so he stopped, walked across the street, and went to great lengths to help him. This is like a prelude to the GC and gives us such an amazing understanding of what it means to love our lost neighbors as we too walk across the street to spend time with them, learn language, share life with them, and in all contexts and conversations share the gospel with them.
The question I try to ask myself every day is: do I actually share the gospel with my neighbors? And if not, why not? This is a tough question. But I think the prior question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we delight in the gospel? The reason I ask is, if we delight in the gospel, chances are we can’t help but share the gospel with those around us! Here’s a thought: if we regularly share the gospel with our neighbors now, wherever we are, chances are we will share the gospel where we go, wherever that is! And, chances are, we will have the motivation to learn their language so we can do that!
Pray for your lost neighbors! My friend Sean asks a great question. Do we pray until our hearts break for the lost? Sean did. For days! You know what it did for him? It broke his heart. It gave him a deeper awareness of the needs, the opportunities, the open doors to gospel conversations. Sean began to see that the only thing keeping him from these conversations and opportunities was his lack of awareness and lack of language ability. As he grew in his compassion and expectation, and humility, he learned language with greater fervor and put himself into situations where he was able to share the gospel more and more fluently with his neighbors.
Not too long ago I was running and listening to 1 John in my new language. I came to chapter 3 verse 1, “See how great the Father’s love is for us that we should be called the children of God!” and suddenly thought of my mom sharing the gospel with me as a child when I prayed to receive Christ. Why think of this now? I crested a hill and came to the corner where I’d seen an older woman waiting for her bus. There she was again. I knew then why God had prompted that thought. Her bus was on the way and I had just enough time to share my story with her along with this verse. I gave her my audio scriptures as she put her hand to her heart in thanks and boarded the bus. I never saw her again.
God calls us to reach the nations. Acts 1:8 provides a great illustration of the global reach of the gospel, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth! Let’s personalize this. God uses our lives, our witness, to bring the gospel to our neighbors, every day, if we just open our eyes! The same gospel in my life is the gospel for my neighbor, and for my neighbor’s neighbor. This is the amazing radius of the gospel God invites us into!
One of the questions I often get it, "OK, so I get the 'why' behind gospel fluency. But what about the 'how'? How does it work? How do we get there?" Three chapters in this book (and several appendices) are dedicated to how to start and continue with confidence as we pursue gospel fluency.
So how do we start well? In other words, how do we plan and reach basic conversational fluency as our foreseeable first goal? Because reaching basic conversational fluency puts us within range of being able to understand and tell simple familiar gospel stories.
There is something phenomenally motivating when we are able to understand and talk about the gospel from simple life-changing stories from the bible and from our lives. And we can and should be doing this in all mundane and seemingly tangential topics of life through conversations we have with our neighbors as we get a good start on the language. This is the life God calls us to. And we can begin to enter into this life of basic conversational fluency within the first few months. That’s exciting!
But that’s also where the hard work really begins, isn’t it? So how do we continue and finish well? We may imagine that we will just continue learning (see the first graph below). And, predictably, that's not reality. It's just not how ongoing learning happens, except in our imaginations.
Sadly, more often than not, we plateau in our language ability (see the second middle graph). Friends, we cannot do this! We need to continue to grow in our language ability well beyond basic conversational fluency in order to reach true gospel fluency.
I dedicate two chapters in the middle of the book (Deep & Wide and Language 180) to what I describe as getting and staying in the ongoing learning zone, so we become truly fluent in the discourse, and therefore in the gospel, in our new language (see the bottom graph). This is the essential journey. I talk about things to avoid or stop, and things to do or start – what I call deliberate practices – to help us to avoid plateauing and stay in this challenging and important ongoing learning zone. This is one of the biggest challenges of field workers these days. But it is so important!
I think my favorite chapter is the final one entitled “Pilgrims” that personalizes this whole journey. Nothing jolts us out of our comfortable self-confidence and into the stark awareness of our personal frailty and our utter dependence upon God’s mercy as much as diving into a new language and culture. But that’s right where God wants us, wholly trusting in him, isn’t it? And in the end, that’s where our testimonies burn brightest as we share the gospel with those who live in spiritual darkness.
There is no greater motivation to learn the language than to share the gospel through our very lives, from God’s word, through all prayer, in all walks of life, in all conversations, with our dear neighbors, as we live life with them. And that’s the essence of 1000 Cups of Tea: Gospel Fluency Across Cultures.