Mind the Gap, The Ongoing Need for Language Learning in Missions Training

Author: Dr Paul Woods, Advocate and Advisor for Language, Culture, and Worldview Acquisition, OMF International.


‘Same same – but Different’
Sitting in my house on Christmas Day, I heard a strange, digital rendition of a Christian hymn coming from outside. I realised after a few seconds that this seasonal music was coming from my neighbour’s mobile phone. Perhaps this might be a little strange in post-modern, post-Christian Europe, but it is even stranger in Chiang Mai in Thailand, where I live. What is even more curious is that the phone is owned by an Indian businessman who is a devoted Sikh. This is one more example of globalisation, a guiding motif of the early 21st century.
However, things are a little more complicated than this. When my children took a little present next door, the neighbour’s children had no idea why, and my kids had to explain that it is Christmas and the gifts are a tradition reminding us of God’s gift of Christ. Oh yes, Christmas. We’ve heard of it in school. Still more complex is the fact that although my children are welcome in our neighbour’s house, with its plethora of Sikh symbols and paraphernalia, the Indian children have never set foot in our house, despite repeated invitations, food, and birthday parties.
Here we see a snapshot of the challenge that we face in missions. At one level, globalisation is a reality and is affecting the lives of millions, but at another, more profound and arguably more significant level people’s beliefs and worldview remain surprisingly unchanged. I have taken to describing these two opposing trends, one surely a reaction to the other, as globalisation and regionalisation. As small regions of the world struggle for independence and autonomy, and regional accents, customs, and allegiances are promoted, what do these two mutually opposing trends say about communicating the gospel across cultures?

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