If you can have a conversation in the language, you can have a gospel conversation in the language!
I recently met with two young ladies preparing for an international ministry assignment. We were talking about how to learn a language and I introduced them to the idea of full immersion and getting to a point of “basic conversational fluency” as quickly as possible. We need to be thinking months, not years.
I pointed them to 12 weeks of lessons and the From Zero to Basic Conversational Fluency article that provide handles to effectively reach basic conversational ability in full-immersion settings. Imagine being able to create meaningful and spontaneous sentences in the language! Or having simple conversations that you can actually understand and contribute to! Or actually understanding simple familiar Bible passages when you hear or read them! How motivating is that?!
This is what I call the “breakthrough point” in language learning. This is when we get to take the training wheels off. This is when we begin to enter into those conversational ministry opportunities in the language we envision.
Not long ago I met with a group of learners who had reached this level. I was excited for them. We were talking about how to meaningfully tell gospel stories from Scripture. As I listened, it became clear that monologuing stories just didn’t fit 95% of their ministry contexts. They needed to bring these stories into their daily conversations and lives that they shared with their lost neighbors. We began to think together, What if we dialogued the stories? What if we integrated the message we read from God’s word that morning (or last week) into the daily life-on-life conversations we had with our neighbors?
For example, in the account of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41, we could perhaps re-tell the story beginning with, “Jesus was teaching by a lake” (v. 1) but is that the best starting point? What if instead we brought the story into the meaningful conversation with our hurting neighbor, “You’re right, we’ve lost a lot. Life feels hopeless, full of anxiety and fear. Just this morning I read such comforting news from God’s word that gives me great hope and peace that I’d like to share with you.” Then, with each part of the story – the storm, the fear of the disciples, awakening Jesus (who had been sleeping through it all), Jesus’ command to the wind and waves, the calm, the disciples’ reaction – we invite a conversational response. There are so many gospel opportunities in every conversation! Pray for them, wait for them, ask for them, listen for them. “Have you ever feared for you life? What happened? How do you feel now?”
Can you expect to fluently converse the gospel in just a few months? Maybe not. But you definitely can start moving in that direction! And with every story you learn, and every gospel conversation you have, you develop more and more fluency. You learn to listen, respond, understand things at a deeper level, and minister more and more fluently to lost neighbors and new believers as you bring the gospel into your daily conversations with them.
Remember, abide in Christ. Be filled with the Spirit. Dive deep into God’s Word and pray in your new language. Do this regularly with local brothers and sisters. Then, you will be spiritually and linguistically prepared to minister to those around you in your daily conversations as you seek and find those who need to hear the gospel.