Saturday, May 2, 2009

Говорите ли Български? (Do you speak Bulgarian?)

One of the most enjoyable preparations for the trip has been learning the Bulgarian language. Prior to going last year, I took the time to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and some basic phrases. While in Bulgaria, I learn a few more phrases and became more comfortable reading the signs and such. When I left, I determined to learn much more before returning. Fortunately, God has provided an excellent instructor in Barbi Robnett, who has been taking professional lessons for some time now. She has begun passing on her knowledge to interested most of the members of our team in weekly lessons on Wednesday evenings before church.

Of course, most of the people we meet in Bulgaria speak at least some English, but some, including most of the gypsy people, do not. Even a basic vocabulary in their native tongue allows us to connect through conversation. Since building relationships is the primary focus of our ministry, the ability to communicate with each other is a pretty big deal.

However, conversation is not the only reason for learning the language. Far too often, Americans venture forth into the world as ambassadors of... well, Americanism! As citizens of a self-sufficent and prosperous superpower, we can easily demonstrate an unconscious lack of humility when dealing with other cultures. It is easy to assume that our ways are the best ways and that the world speaks English because of our global influence. Such arrogance is hardly conducive to ministry! Many in the world are automatically suspicious of American motives anytime we advance beyond our own borders. As citizens of God's kingdom and His ambassadors, we must seek a better way. By taking time to learn the language of those we serve amongst, we demonstrate humility and unity with our fellow laborers. I have seen firsthand as Bulgarian hearts were opened to their American brothers and sisters in Christ by something as simple as us attempting to sing along with them in their own language during a worship service.

One day, we will all communicate together effortlessly in some heavenly tongue without translators or interpretation errors. The language, cultural, and physical barriers will drop as we give up our temporary eartly citizenships and go home to the kingdom where our ultimate allegiances lie. Until then, we must do all that we can to make those barriers as meaningless as possible.

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