Is Language Learning Over For Missionaries?
An article was recently posted regarding the transition one Italian university is making from instruction in the national language to instruction in international English. While this may seem rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, numerous questions arise as we think through the implications for global outreach. Assuming the trend of English becoming an international language continues, does this mean American missionaries should stop focusing on learning other languages? After all, it takes a significant investment of time and energy to learn a language well such that one is able to communicate the gospel. Would that time be better spent sharing the gospel with bi-linguals and letting them do the work of church planting among their own people?
While there are intriguiing possiblities for short-termers doing outreach to bi-linguals, the answer to the previous questions must be "No!" (See Pastor John's response to a similar question about not sending missionaries, just money.) The news article quotes an opponent of the university's move English instruction by giving an analogy from the cinema. He states that communicating in Italian is like watching a movie in high-definition and vivid color whereas communicating in English, for Italians, is like watching a blurry film in black and white. In essence, he is making the same argument that missionaries through the ages have made for the need to communicate to people in their heart language. While God is certainly at work amid the globalization of English, the need for competent communicators of the gospel in every language is still a gripping reality.
This is the vivid color, high-definition reality of heaven, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” (Rev 7:9–10)
So, whether through English, or better, through the local language, we seek to communicate the gospel to people of all languages, the good news of Jesus Christ , crucified, risen, reigning, and ready to return.