“Language is love.”
My student from Nepal quoted these words with a wide grin before our ESL class. It was below freezing outside our cluttered and crowded makeshift English classroom. We were located on the third floor of the English language institute. Our lesson centered on the story of the three wise men, a story I was familiar with from years of Sunday school and Wednesday night Bible studies, but one that my Nepali and Bangladeshi students experienced for their first time in English.
“Mr. Mohammed can you read the title for me?,” I asked. He smiled and nodded his head up and down quickly.
Mr. Mohammed needed the most help pronouncing words. I would usually read a sentence to him and have him repeat it back to me. He was eager to say anything in English, even if he wasn’t saying it right, and he was thankful for my help with words he did not know. At one point I was having difficulties explaining the story of the three wise men to him. Each time I would move on to a new sentence, Mr. Mohammed would need help understanding how that new sentence connected to the one before it. He could understand fragments of the story, but he could not put the story together. However, I noticed he was quick to pick up names. One name always made him smile and look up at me. That name was Jesus. Whenever I said a sentence with the name Jesus as the subject he perked and repeated the name Jesus back to me.
“Ohhh, Jesus!” Mr. Mohammed would say with cheery eyes.
Looking back on that day, I doubt that he understood most of the story of the three wise men, maybe less than half. Furthermore, I never got to articulate the Gospel with Mr. Mohammed. He did not understand my English very well, and I was unable to spend time outside of class with him. But I know this for sure; Mr. Mohammed took away a great impression of the name of Jesus. Whenever he heard that name his face changed; this name was all he needed to hear. And it reminded me of what God commanded me to do in 2 Corinthians 4:5, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.”
I was reminded that the Gospel did not depend on my eloquent speech; it did not depend on my speech period. Being an English major, I had hopes of explaining the good news of Jesus as precisely as I could to Mr. Mohammed, but none of that worked; God had unequipped me physically, dis-enabling me to express myself. Yet, through this physical unequipping, this language barrier, God reminded me I was equipped spiritually. I had to depend solely on God to explain who Jesus was to Mr. Mohammed since my words would never be enough. I had to depend solely on the name of Jesus and His name was more than enough. One word from God spoke to Mr. Mohammed more than all my words ever could. This is because the language of Jesus is the language of love. Through the Holy Spirit, all can interpret its meaning.
Chris Williams is a Go Now missionary who served in New York City over Christmas break.