Communicating Without Being Able to Communicate
There are a few things that transcend cultures and languages: a smile, a laugh, a game, a shared experience, and basic emotions. One of the things that I was concerned about as I prepared for this trip was the language barrier. There are only a few who speak broken English here in Guinea, and I cannot speak any of the languages that we've encountered, but the Lord has allowed me to communicate in other ways.
One of the first language barrier breakthroughs came as we were visiting Pastor Joel and his family. They speak French and a local dialect, neither of which I can comprehend, and they don't speak English at all. I started with a smile and a tickling gesture with Goodo, their two year old daughter. It began to open the door to communication with the whole family.
Next, Rachel and I stated to play a simple clapping game with her and her older sister. I noticed her brother starting to break the ice with us by throwing a small stuffed animal around and I asked the girl to come and join an impromptu game with her brother. Smiles got bigger as we tossed the small stuffed toy around. A smile, a nod, a gesture - and soon we were playing a game of toss with the stuffed animal that had a rules that were apparent to all.
Dan grabbed a soccer ball he brought with him. We started throwing it around, along with the stuffed animal, and now we had the whole family's attention. We couldn't kick the ball around because we were in a small courtyard next to their house - the windows and cars were dangerously close - but we enjoyed throwing the ball around. I could tell that this game of toss had gone further to break the communication barrier.
I couldn't help but think of Mr. Kopsick as we were playing soccer with the kids on our Mexico mission trip a number of years ago. We couldn't speak the language there but Mr. Kip's goalkeeper skills knocked holes in our language barrier. He began to throw the ball behind his back, point in one direction and throw in another, and bounce the ball off of his forehead with great force. Each time you could hear the audible gasp of the kids playing, as well as those watching. Smiles followed the gasps as people were pointing whenever the ball came close to Mr. Kopsick. Soon more and more of the kids' families appeared and we had quite a crowd waiting to play soccer with us. The rules of the field were that the game was just until one goal was scored. Then the loser was back to the end of the line and the next team was in. You could keep on playing as long as you continued to score first. The local talent was much greater than our mission team and we weren't on the field for long!
Back to Africa. Late that afternoon we were waiting to depart to Barro for our next stop on our missionary meeting tour. I asked if I could use a small globe they had nearby to show them where we lived. As I looked closely at the globe I saw that the printing on the globe lacked any kind of detail. I pulled out my tablet and opened Google maps. I zoomed into where they lived, zoomed out, and showed them how far away I lived. Then I showed them the flight path we took to get to their country. Then I turned the satellite feature on and zoomed into their house like they were on an airplane. Their mouths were open and there was an audible "ahhhh." Google body was next up. We explored the body together by looking at the muscle structure, the skeleton, the cardio vascular system, and the nervous system. I'm sure they had never seen anything like it. On to Kindle - that was too boring, though. So it was onto Sneezies, Angry Birds, and Bunny Shooter. Those were much bigger hits.
I noticed that each of the kids had their own personality based on how they played the games and how they interacted with each other. My pastor training and spiritual gifts kicked in and I identified leadership skills in the kids and built into them a bit by picking the order in which they were able to play the game. The shy older boy wasn't willing to insist it was his turn, so I picked him to play a few times in a row. Then the middle young lady was getting antsy, and I noticed that she was the best learner in the set, improving her play based on what her siblings did with their turns. Each took their turn and enjoyed the time we spent together. I couldnít communicate with words, but it was clear that we were building our relationship together through non-verbal means.
I've been involved in more than 15 years of CMA Mission presentations. I've seen plenty of pictures and videos from the field, I've heard the stories of lives changed, I've heard international worker after international worker tell of their passion for the lost people in faraway places, but it's not the same as being there. You've got to meet the people; you've got to be part of their lives - even if it's just a little part. You've got to see where they live, see the struggles that they have, hear the heart they have for Christ and the lost all around them, and pray about what God would have you do to partner with them.
I was talking with Bob today about how far I am from home. He said that he's far from home too. I was surprised to hear him say that, since this country was his home for more than 12 years. I thought that he was going to say that he was coming home by visiting here. He told me that Heaven is his home and that no matter where he goes on this earth he's just as far from his home as any other place. I like that perspective.
"Aliens and strangers," is how Peter describes Christ followers here in this world in 1 Peter 2. Another author I heard about recently wrote that he wanted to live this life accumulating as little treasure as possible here on earth while storing as much as possible in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy (Matthew 6). Moth and rust. Did you ever think about that? Moths could easily represent damage that comes from natural things. To me, moths don't do a lot of destruction in my house: my pets do. For me, it should say, "Where Bleu and Lilana will not destroy." Theyíre really good at destroying things in our home. We all know that something is valuable to us if we have to put it up so Bleu doesn't eat it.
Destruction by rust I get. I've spent the majority of my life in living New York State. Rust is a common part of life everywhere in New York State because of the salt that is placed on the roads during the winter. It does a good job of clearing the roads of snow and ice, but at the cost of eating away at the metal on your car - and to most people the metal on their car is an important thing!
It's easy to see how moth and rust destroy, yet we can invest in a way that is not destroyed.
So, how do we properly invest in heavenly things? Itís much simpler than you'd think; you just have to invest in people. People are far more precious to God than anything else He created. He created us and put us right in the middle of everything else that He created for our benefit. He sent His son to live with us, to die for us, and He created an eternal place for us to dwell in His presence. He did that to exhibit His glory to us, in us, and through us. As we invest in other people's lives we're storing up treasure in Heaven and weíre giving Him glory. We're investing into the only place that has a 100% return on our investment with no chance of an issue with market fluctuations.
I've really been wrestling with how I can best invest in the Kingdom Christ. Investing in the Kingdom through devoting myself to full-time service just isn't enough for me. There has to be more. I have invested in people in a few different places through ministry positions, I've been on a couple of mission trips, I've written things that have been used by hundreds and hundreds of people, and we've invited people to live with us in our home. I've given money to the Great Commission Fund, I've given to special projects along the way, I've given to support local ministries, and I've supported dozens of short term mission trips. But there just has to be more. I know there are so many more opportunities. There are so many people out in the great big world who are doing their part to evangelize and disciple the group of people that are before them. How can I better invest in the work they're doing? I know that I can pray for them, but I also believe that it is a matter of prayer for me to seek how I can invest by doing more than praying.
I want to invest well. I hope you do as well! Letís seek the Lordís guidance on how we can best do that: both right where Heís planted you and throughout the corners of the globe!
James E. Bogoniewski, Jr.