As a young child, I spent a year or two with a daytime caregiver and her son—neither of whom spoke much English. I’m told I became proficient in Spanish as a result. Eventually, I forgot most of what I’d learned. By the time I later enrolled in what used to be known as junior high school, I chose to study French instead of Spanish. I know. I know. I’m a California native, so that probably wasn’t the smartest move. I devoted seven (7) or eight (8) years to French in full. I’ll leave it to you to guess how often I’ve used the language since college.
Let’s fast forward to 2009. In January or February of that year, the Lord suddenly placed it upon my heart to learn Spanish. So, I told my pastor husband I needed to buy a few learning materials—books, CD’s, DVD’s, etc. Just between you and me, I think he thought I was a little crazy. Non-English speakers had rarely ventured into our church prior to that time unless accompanied by an interpreter. How likely was it that they’d suddenly start appearing then? Nevertheless, indulgent husband that he is, Michael sanctioned the investment in learning resources.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed what happened next. One night at the beginning of the summer, three unfamiliar ladies walked into our Wednesday night Bible class. Though the lesson had commenced, I approached the women to welcome them and to introduce myself. It became clear right away that they spoke no English, so I experimented with my elementary (i.e., horrendous) Spanish. Though visibly amused at my missteps, they seemed to appreciate the effort. I promised to study harder if they remained faithful in attendance. Since no other churches in the area had actively reached out to the Latino community, they soon embraced our church as their own.
In the ensuing years, the attendance amongst our Spanish speakers has ebbed and flowed. But, because of our efforts, we are well-known to those in the Hispanic community who’ve sought a convenient place to worship. As it happens, no other congregations in the area have actively striven to incorporate the local Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central American and South American individuals into their churches who haven’t mastered English.
I’d like to believe that I’ve internalized an important lesson taught by the Apostle Paul as a result of God’s gentle nudge upon the strings of my heart. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul wrote:
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.
23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
Guess what? Though my command of the Spanish language has improved considerably since those early days, I am hardly fluent. But, it doesn’t seem to matter. You know why? Because we’ve translated entire songs and sermons and displayed them onscreen utilizing our projector equipment. We’ve sung modern Christian/gospel music and traditional hymns in both languages. I’ve taught bilingual Sunday School classes and conducted bilingual youth services. I’ve even taught English as a Second Language (ESL) courses on Monday nights.
If we’ve reached even one soul with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our meager Spanish ministry, therefore, it isn’t because we’ve become great orators or mastered the intricacies of Spanish grammar. It’s because we have learned and are continuing to learn to show love.