The significance of words has been something on my mind quite a lot lately.
When we know words in a particular language we often make the assumption that we can communicate with others who know that language. In many instances this would hold true and it lulls us into a false sense of security. When we find ourselves communicating in a familiar language with others who are also familiar with that language we tend to assume that they will understand us because we are speaking the same language. This is where it can come undone. The same words may be used to mean different things. Something simple and once understood now becomes confused because of new meaning. A simple illustration. One of our team members asked me for an onion as they were making sloppy joes for lunch! Previously I had understood a sloppy joe to be an article of clothing not a meal or lunch menu item! I now know that the meaning I knew for sloppy joe was not the only meaning for sloppy joe. This increases the complexity of communicating. When you add into the mix relational tensions then the possibility of mis-communicating is dramatically increased.
When we don’t know a language we cannot communicate with words but often resort to gestures, miming etc which comes with its hazards. We then begin to learn the language. We think we hear something only to find when we repeat it that people fall about laughing or worse that they become agitated as we have failed to pick up some nuance of sound production that was obvious to the listener and now we have said something inappropriate. Ju’/hoansi comes with its fair share of challenges. One of those is that the same word can have multiple meanings depending on context and pronunciation. One of those words in Ju’/hoansi is the word son which can also mean know or pit!! Too bad if you want to say “My son, do you know about the pit?” It also provides more challenge when you are searching for the one word in a string of words fired at you that you can identify. You pounce on that one word thinking they are talking about your son or their son only to find out they were asking if you know where someone lives!
And then we come to the Word. The eternal living word that is invested with life and power beyond just the actual script. Where would we be without the Word? We are instructed that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” We currently reside in a place where the language is still in the process of being codified, it is still very much an oral language. There is a small team of local guys working at writing down the language so that it can in the future be taught and people can learn to read and write in their language. Separate from this there is a joint venture being undertaken to translate some bible stories into Ju’/hoansi. When it comes to ministry here the issue of language is something we definitely need to be mindful of. Please pray with us that God would clearly direct us as a team in what ministry we need to be involved in. We recognise that communication comes with many difficulties but we believe these are not insurmountable for the Creator of the universe; after all it was the Holy Spirit that enabled communication like it had never occurred before at Pentecost!