FIRST-PERSON: Stretching into their language

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Nobody met me at the Mexico City airport. And from what I could tell, nobody was speaking English.

I had to reach deep for every syllable I had learned in a Spanish class just to navigate across town. When I later paid the taxi driver in pesos and walked toward my destination, the sense of accomplishment was incredible. God had kindly immersed me -- sink or swim -- in an alien culture. And for a 21-year-old at the time, that was a big deal.

What I remember most about my arrival as a summer volunteer in Mexico was the chatter of unintelligible voices. I love the sound of people speaking other languages and particularly Español. The language has a melodic rhythm that I love to hear. Unlike my Spanish learning labs, nobody was speaking each word dis-tinct-ly and s-l-o-w-l-y. But several weeks later, I could begin to pick out words and make sense of the river of sound gushing from Mexicans that I really wanted to understand.

Genesis 11 tells of people who had one language as they sought to build a great city and a tower to reach the heavens. God was cut out of their plans. So, He confused their language, causing the people to scatter across the earth. The building project stopped but was forever labeled "Babel."

More than 2,000 years later, Acts 2 tells of 120 followers of Jesus who were praying during the Pentecost festival. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they spilled into the streets of Jerusalem telling everyone the mighty works of God. And they did it in the languages of those they encountered.

God wants an opportunity to work through us. At Babel, the people chose to work together in a highly ambitious building project, but without God. They missed the opportunity and it brought disunity. At Pentecost, when empowered by God, the believers' community was transformed as 3,000 repented, believed on Jesus, were baptized and became disciple-makers.

Yes, it is hard to take the Gospel across cultures, but the Holy Spirit provides and empowers. There are few higher honors than to learn a lost person's language.

I once received a call from a woman who was upset about illegal immigrants working in her community. But the reason she called was to ask, "Am I supposed to witness even to illegal immigrants?" I shared with her that, legal or not, when any person returns to their homeland as a born-again Christian, they could share the Good News of Jesus as they went. She was quiet a long time. Then she sighed and said, "Okay, I'll witness to them."

This summer, it was a joy to work with a dozen summer interns who surveyed people groups in Kansas City, St. Louis and Jefferson City. They identified 90-plus peoples and points of interest, which they recorded at www.peoplegroups.info.

And perhaps more importantly, they began eight Bible studies among those who were responsive. In each situation, all the workers had to do was ask!

A missionary was waiting for me at the Mexico City airport but was at the wrong airline. Mistakes happen. However, when we align our lives with God's mission, He provides a way -- even if it's just to get a guy like me or you -- across town and onto the Lord's harvest field.


Mark Snowden is the evangelism/discipleship strategist for the Missouri Baptist Convention. This article first appeared at The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.