I will let you into a secret. I am a truly terrible linguist. I suppose I can take some comfort in the statistics. It has been calculated that 62% of British Citizens cannot speak any other language, but English, fluently … At the other end of the scale the most competent speakers of two, three or more additional languages are the Swedes at 97% and the Danes at 96%. We are told that most citizens in these nations are multi-lingual. I am impressed!
Very recently the Christian church celebrated Pentecost. This is the ‘birthday of the church’ and the occasion when a tiny, beleaguered Jewish-sect was launched into highly successful global-mission. The ‘launch’ of the church, that first Pentecost, was a spectacular sequence of supernatural events which culminated in the apprentices of Jesus (his disciples) going out first thing in the morning into the market place and speaking boldly about their faith. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that.
What is unusual is this - the marketplace was full of traders who had gathered from all over the known world. They were a cosmopolitan gathering. They represented many nations, and many cultures. They spoke many diverse and unrelated languages. What is unusual is this - that these men and woman of many nations and many tongues heard the apprentices of Jesus speak of their faith … in their own languages. Think about it. These apprentices of Jesus were working men. They were not academics. They were not global-travellers. They were not linguists.
What the people of many nations heard in that square that morning was the equivalent of a group of employees from, say, the local council recycling centre pouring onto the street outside an international multi-faith theological conference - and address the delegates impeccably in their own languages using specialised theological-technical-terminology. That is impressive. I suppose it might just about be possible in multi-lingual Sweden … but I don’t think it would happen here in the UK. When the marketplace heard the apprentices of Jesus speak they became excited. For two reasons.
- First, what they heard was life-changing.
- Second, it was in their own language. Words they could understand.
Recently I saw an advert - I think it was on the side of a bus. It said, ‘Does God speak your language?’. It was not talking about whether or not you were hearing the stories of God in English, Swedish or Tumbuka, rather it was asking if you could understand those God-Stories in words that suited your ears. And that is the challenge for people of faiths. To tell their God-Stories not in foreign languages (unless they are linguists) but in words that people can understand. For far too long the God-Stories have been dressed up in fancy words and religious-talk and plain speaking has been abandoned. So tell the stories of your God - tell them boldly in simple words and let people know that ‘God speaks your language!’