Mining for Gold
I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:26)
Erich was one of my early mentors in language and ministry. I loved listening to him teach and converse. But even more I loved watching him listen.. As beautiful as his language was, it wasn't so much his ability to speak that drew me. It was his responsiveness to deep thoughts and questions from locals, and the fact that he could communicate with them with such heart-felt spiritual compassion and deep cultural understanding.
Erich once described a discipleship time he had with some guys out East. Informal. Over tea. Solid teaching, and a lot of discussion. Glancing at the Bible in his hand, I asked him what languages he used with these guys. He said, “Hmm, all three, I think.” One language for reading (primarily) and two for listening and speaking (primarily). I chuckled at the reality. And then he followed with something that really grabbed me, “And it always feeds my soul.” He was talking about the discipleship time, for sure. But, in a greater sense he was talking about the Word of God in his life, both in his heart language, but also in those he had internalized - the multiple languages of his neighbors whom he had come to love.
Erich was simply doing what God had called him to do, and living out who He called him to be. This is what he lived for and where his joy came from. He was a gold miner. And he had struck it rich (Matthew 13:44-46). Erich embodied patient and resolute faithfulness - a persistence in the long haul - to really know and communicate God’s word in the local languages of his neighbors.
Persistence: Resolute continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
I am personally challenged to be more persistent! We are all tempted to coast and get lazy. What are some ways to practice persistence for the long haul in our language and ministry? Here are five ideas:
One: Find a compelling reason to keep learning. The biggest reason I can think of is embodied in faithful servants like Erich. The more we learn, the more we can faithfully teach. This is our ultimate motivation to keep learning!
Two: Keep going. Find things that work. And keep doing them. Every day. Establish the habits. Don't break the chain. From reading the Bible in your new language, to teaching it to new believers and sharing it with your neighbors.
Three: Never miss twice. You know what kills a good habit? When you stop doing it. If you miss once, that's a warning. Don't miss twice. It's just too easy to then stop. And, believe me, it's very tempting to be diverted from persistently learning language in ministry. Why? Because it's just that hard to keep going. So, make it your ambition to sustain a rhythm of daily learning and practice.
Four: Start small. Start with what you can do. Starting with a "pre-training" plan can be super helpful. Get the early wins. And then slowly build from there. An example of this may be reading just a few verses in your new language every day, or co-teaching from a simple passage with a language partner who can help you.
Five: Get help. Recruit a coach, a national partner, or a colleague, who can spur you on and hold you accountable. One idea is to hire a language partner one day a week who can review with you what you are doing, like a portfolio, for progress encouragement, and to provide expert tips for next steps.
These ideas can help you keep going in the right direction for the long haul in language and ministry. Don't give up!
A ministry of exponentially multiplying disciples comes as a result of determined persistence in the right direction over the long haul. The process will be long, arduous, and full of setbacks. If you keep at it and learn as you go, your labor will not be in vain. Don’t give up! (Bob McNabb from Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World 2013)