Today, I went with our church's senior group to a nursing home. There, we sang hymns. I led a devotion. We heard a poetry reading. We probably spent about forty-five minutes doing that. Then, we greeted some of the residents.
Many of them suffered from Altzheimers, Parkinsons, and other age-related diseases. Some of them were physically challenged, and some of them were mentally disabled. Some were easy to interact with, while others merely stared and clutched their baby dolls.
One woman made an impression on me, that I think will stick forever. I introduced myself, and when she told me her name, I detected a slight accent that I couldn't identify. "Where are you from?" I asked her.
"Puerto Rico," she told me.
Immediately I switched from English to Spanish. She told me that she had a son and a daughter and a sister in Puerto Rico. She has lived in the nursing home for eight years. We spoke for only three or four minutes. There was no lengthy spiritual conversation. But when I said, "Que Dios te bendiga," [God bless you] in her own language, there was something on her face that spoke volumes beyond words. It became obvious to me that she probably never spoke or heard her own native tongue anymore. Maybe she hadn't in years. And here was somebody giving her a blessing in the language of her heart.
That three or four minute exchange probably meant more to her than the forty-five we spent singing and sharing in English.
Which makes me wonder--In all the ways we Christians try to share Jesus with people, how often do we take the time to make sure that we're doing it in their language? Maybe they literally speak another language, and it'd be better to share Jesus with them in the language of their heart. Or, maybe they speak our same dialect of English, but they come from a subculture or special group that we need to appeal to--and put Jesus into terms they can understand.
On February 4 of this year, Jesusismyhomeboy.com reported:
It was the 1980s and Van Zan Frater was a young Texan relocated to Los Angeles. One night he was driving in South Central Los Angeles and needed to use a pay phone so he pulled into the parking lot of a liquor store. As soon as he exited he saw a group of toughs. They were young, none older than seventeen and out to prove themselves. As Van Zan walked to the phone they set upon him. As Van Zan remembers there were at least 12 of them and they surrounded him and began to ask him questions like where he was from and other questions that let Van Zan know he was dealing with a street gang.
One of the younger boys struck him and Van Zan fell to the ground. It was then the young gangster put a gun to Van Zan’s head. The other boys were telling the young man to pull the trigger and take Van Zan’s life so they boy cocked the trigger. Van Zan pleaded and pleaded but nothing could sway the boy. Then Van Zan looked around and then back to the boy with the gun. Eye to eye he looked at the boy and said, “Jesus is my homeboy and don’t you know that Jesus is your homeboy too?” The message was passed.
The message was withdrawn from his head. He had connected with the boy living inside the gangster. That boy looked at the next one and one by one each boy felt the message, that Jesus was their homeboy as well. Van Zan left there unharmed but the message still rang in his ears.
Van Zan Frater now heads a foundation inspired by Jesus is My Homeboy dedicated to helping innocent victims of gang violence.
How will we learn to "speak the language" of those around us? First, we need to listen to them.
That's not always easy to do, because we often bypass those who don't already speak our language. We're lazy about witnessing. We want people to come to us, on our terms. When will the church learn to bless people in their own language? It's so simple, and so much more effective than expecting them to come to our services, and learn to speak our language, just so they can hear.
Dee & Van Zan Frater recently read my blog post, and left a comment. Please click on "comments" below to see what they had to say.