For those of you who have heard me speak, you may have heard me tell this story before. But I have had many ask me to share it as it is so well liked. It is a story that demonstrates just how important it is to translate Scripture into someone’s heart language or first language. Each language has its own perspective and cultural background. Even body language can be significantly different.
One of my friends went to Papua New Guinea for his internship to complete his undergrad. He stayed in one of the villages with a missionary living there to observe how language work was accomplished in this kind of setting. Before leaving for the internship, my friend had learned a few phrases in the local language he was traveling to in order to help him learn the language faster. I cannot begin to tell you how excited he was about learning the local language. He practiced those phrases again and again to get them just right. The first day staying in the village, my friend immediately set to work on learning the language. He began pointing with his finger to different items asking in the local language, “What is this?” The locals would answer, and my friend would repeat the word given and move on to the next item, pointing and asking “What is this?” But pretty soon, he began to realize that the local people were saying the same word over and over for every item that he pointed to. At first he thought he was saying the phrase he had learned incorrectly, but then as he continued to get the same answer for every item he pointed to, he became quite frustrated. Finally, he asked a local friend who could speak both the local language and English what he was doing wrong and what the one word that was repetitively answered meant. His friend laughed and answered that the word the villagers were answering over again was the word for finger. My friend just had to laughed with him. In the local language, you did not point with your finger, but instead, when referring to an object, you would point to it with your chin. Here all this time, my friend had been sticking out his finger pointing to an object, asking what it was and the poor locals had to keep on giving him the same answer. “Why, its your finger, man.” They must have thought my friend was pretty slow at learning the language, yet they had patience enough to keep answering:
“What is this?”
Rachael Nielsen was hoping to serve in Sierra Leone but will be leaving LBT service on July 31 because of health concerns. She asks for prayers for healing and God’s blessings as she returns to the Canada Institute of Linguistics to complete her Master of Linguistics degree.