Faith in the Chaos- Chapter Twelve: Language Barrier


That Sunday Malcolm came to Madona to make arrangements for his move to the city in August. I was looking forward to the visit so I could actually speak to an Englishman and another missionary.

We had a great time that weekend. We laughed a lot as we shared together. Malcolm was easy going, with the rare ability to laugh at himself. He also had the gift of listening. He provided a safe place to vent my frustrations. He helped me regain some much needed perspective for ministry.

Malcolm’s visit also had an unintended consequence. It brought back my loneliness. As strange as it seemed, I missed the English language. Everywhere I went it became painfully obvious I was a foreigner.

I tried blocking out conversations around me. It didn’t help. I became paranoid that folks were talking about me. Every once in a while I’d hear someone say ‘Canada’ or ‘Tims’, followed with laughter. Raivis assured me it was nothing insulting, but it began to wear on my nerves.

I longed to understand everyone around me. Ever greater was my desire to be understood. The most glaring example of the language problem was my first sermon. I learned the lesson of the language barrier the hard way.

I preached from the book of Ecclesiastes on wisdom. I should have recognized a problem when I mentioned the scripture reading and Raivis gave me blank stare. He had never even heard of the word ‘Ecclesiastes’. I did not think to check what it might be in Latvian.

During the sermon I would occasionally glance at Malcolm. Most of the time he was laughing quietly to himself and shaking his head. He already knew what I was learning. I had asked Raivis to do the impossible, translate a sermon without any preparation. He did the best he could under the circumstances, but it was in vain.

When I finished, the whole congregation looked at me as if to ask, ‘What in the world was that?!’ I felt like crawling back to my seat. After church Raivis apologized, but it was hardly his fault.

Malcolm tried to insert some humour into the situation, but I was not in the mood. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Always go over your message with your translator before you embarrass yourself in front a group of people.