The other day I had a meltdown. I can’t even remember what triggered it. All I know is that I tried to distract myself by leaving the house to spend time with someone, but there was only one elderly grandma in the village, and after a brief chat, it seemed that she didn’t really want company right then, so I ended up back in the house, crying.
Despite the progress gained in seven months, counting by time actually spent in the village, not time since I first arrived here (I still hold a slight grudge against those bacteria and those incorrect antibiotics that kept me away for a few months) one can get so discouraged by the limited capacity for conversation and the minute understanding of a complex culture a world away from our own. So it is easy to get discouraged by the enormity of the task, and the slow progress towards the goal.
But in that moment of discouragement, a Scripture verse blazed into my discouraged mind and heart.
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” Zechariah 4:6
Applying the biblical principal to a language learning situation, where “might” and “power” aren’t exactly what one wishes for the most, it seems appropriate to say,
“Not by intelligence or organizational skills, nor by determination and willpower, nor by anything else, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.”
That’s where it’s at, friends. One might long for more intelligence, organizational skills, determination, willpower, etcetera, etcetera, but those qualities won’t accomplish the task, at least not in the most effective way.
Which begs the question, “How does one learn a language and culture by the Spirit of God?”
That question has burned in my heart and interrupted many other thoughts for the last several weeks. Here is the answer I have for now, though it is something that I will continue contemplating and praying about.
The how of language and culture learning is up to God. I honestly believe that the way I learned Portuguese was a miracle. Oh, maybe not the blow-your-socks-off kind of miracle where the sun stands still or a dead person sits up during their funeral procession or Jesus walks on top of the sea in the middle of a raging storm. Nevertheless, all things considered, I learned Portuguese fairly well, rather quickly. More importantly, I integrated into Brasilian culture to the point where in many ways, I feel more comfortable or fit in better there than in my own culture.
And I ask myself, over and over, exactly how did I even learn Portuguese, and exactly how can I replicate the process for learning Neno?
Eight years later, it seems like a blur…. I remember lots of sitting around in people’s living rooms understanding almost nothing. I remember afternoons in the kitchen with my Brasilian mom, asking her what utensil after utensil after utensil is called in Portuguese, and repeating their names rather badly. I remember dozens of times when tears would well up in my eyes, because more than anything, I longed to be able to understand and communicate with the amazing people around me, especially in order to talk about Jesus and His great love, and I just didn’t have the words. But those days passed, melting into fluency, and today, I am living a similar situation in the Neno culture, of desperate longing to understand and communicate.
After God brought Zechariah 4:6 to my attention, with respect to ACL (Acquisition of Culture and Language), I realize that trying to duplicate the process is not the answer. What I need (and already have!) is not the same process, but the same power.
Circumstances are different, after all. I am not living with a Neno family, immersed 24/7 in their lives. I am responsible to care for my own house and cooking. There are health challenges which slow me down and use up valuable chunks of time each day. Supply-buying and other business requires frequent trips out of the cultural context. So it would be unrealistic to expect the process to look the same. And even though God opened doors for an amazing process of Brasilian culture immersion that worked very well, it wasn’t the process that was the key factor for success.
It was His Spirit that was my passion, my life, my fire, my everything. And guess what? The Spirit of God still lives in me. Here in the Neno village, He is still the same as when I was in the midst of Brasilian “ACL”. He surpasses any might or power or intelligence or determination I might have on my own. He works in different ways in different times and different places, and orchestrates circumstances in the way He knows is best. But we can trust that since the Lord Jesus brought me here, He has a foolproof, success-guaranteed plan for my Neno ACL. The results and the timeframe will be exactly what He has planned, if I will walk not according to my own resources, but walk in His Spirit and depend on Him. Please pray that I will not only write this and believe it, but that I will remember this and live it, every moment of every day.