Friday, May 08, 2015

Speaking Plainly


Today was Senior Chapel at WCS and as I watched, I was struck by how many of our grads are from Asia. This is about how things are not always what they seem to be. I wrote it on December 7, 2008.

This is Melanie. This delightful ten year old was adopted at one year from a Chinese orphanage, being found abandoned shortly after her birth. Her adoptive mother is an American Christian. Last year, Melanie came home from Sunday school and told her mom they had to go to China and help the little children. Melanie and her mom, a school teacher, raised the funds through much hard work and prayer and made their pilgrimage to Shenyang last July. That's where I met them. Melanie and I became big buddies. We spent a great deal of time together as she was the only child on our mission team and my maturity level allows me to relate easily to that age group. Her mom came to me one day and asked if I had any ideas concerning an obstacle she was unexpectedly encountering. People on the streets would see Melanie and this white American woman and assume the Asian-looking girl was her translator. When they began speaking to Melanie in Chinese, she would not respond and those trying to communicate with her thought she was rude. Little did they know she understood no more than her mother. Melanie survived. She is a world class young lady and an aspiring artist- I have one of her framed masterpieces in my classroom. Horses are her specialty and I treasure mine.All this brings me to last Friday. We had tests in all my classes and I encourage my students to add a prayer request to the bottom of their exam. This was penned by one of my sophomore scholars, a young man from Taiwan:

"Thanks to God for letting the Chinese minister come to my school. Sometimes, I didn't understand what American preachers pray. Because of him, I can understand. I can pray together."
You see, on Thursday, Eric Tan, a Chinese-speaking minister from Singapore who is working with our congregation, spoke in a special chapel for our Chinese students. He obviously made a deep impression on this tenth grader. Understanding is everything, isn't it? Just to make a point, I Googled English-Chinese Translations. I found a website and typed in my student's prayer request to be interpreted. Here is his prayer request in Mandarin:
对上帝的感谢让中国部长来到我的学校。 有时我don' t了解什么美国部长祈祷。 由于他,我可以了解。 我可以一起祈祷。
(I'm not sure why the word don't showed up but it did, even after I retyped. Maybe there is no comparable symbol so it makes sense just to put it into English.)

How many of you can comprehend that prayer request when printed in Chinese? Like me, you have no clue... unless you are one of my Chinese readers. Sometimes, we need some assistance and sometimes we need some explanation. Sometimes, we just need someone to speak in our native tongue so concepts make sense to us. In 1st Corinthians 14, Paul, discussing speaking in tongues, stresses the importance of others being able to understand what is going on in worship. Along those lines, maybe I assume my foreign students comprehend more than they actually do when I teach them from God's word. Maybe it took a prayer request and a Chinese preacher to help me re-examine my methods. It is no more plausible to believe that my Chinese students completely understand me than it is to expect Melanie to be able to converse on the streets of Shenyang, China. But, my Chinese students are rapidly improving their English fluency and who knows if Melanie will one day be curious about her native tongue that is now foreign to her. Until then, thank God for the Eric Tans of the world, who can make the Gospel plain in more than one language. I struggle with only one.

Applicable quote of the day:
"There is the fear, common to all English-only speakers, that the chief purpose of foreign languages is to make fun of us. Otherwise, you know, why not just come out and say it?"
Barbara Ehrenreich

God bless,
Steve
Luke 18:1

http://www.hawleybooks.com/
E-mail me at steve@hawleybooks.com

3 comments:

astrosfreak09 said...

I have to say, even though I don't speak a word of Chinese, that was amazing when they had the preacher do the bilingual prayer. I didn't understand what he was saying in chinese, and I'll admit, he had just said it in English, so I should have already known. But I guess that just goes to show how much we truly pay attention to what's going on around us. That really made me see that I have something right in front of me that I'm not taking advantage of. i can understand English better than a lot of the kids at that school, and yet I just blow it off until something like that comes along and shows me what it's like to not understand one word...even after I just heard it said in my own language.
God Bless
Downtown Brown

hallmark said...

Very touching story on several accounts. Melanie has to be the prettiest girl you have ever posted on your blog, and to know that she wants to help children in China tells me that she is pretty through and through. Also says something about the natural tendency to pre-judge people before we know and understand them. Jesus always seemed to see people as they are, not as they look in human terms. I'm glad that Eric Tan made an positive spiritual impression on a 10th grader, and many others including me.

Toyin O. said...

Wow, what an amazing story, thanks for sharing.