It’s been a year or two, or perhaps more, and you are still unable to converse in your host people’s language at the level you had hoped. You get stuck, locals have to slow down, you are constantly embarrassed, you can’t “be yourself,” and you just … don’t … want … to … study … anymore! Let’s face it, learning another language is tough.
Many of you are in this critical phase of your ministry. Without good language ability, you will, inevitably, cut your ministry short of maximum fruit bearing. So you need it, but “success” in language seems so far away. You need encouragement.
How do you stay motivated to keep going with language learning? Here are a few suggestions.
USE WHATEVER LANGUAGE YOU HAVE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
If you know a few phrases, find ways to use them to magnify God. I always like to learn the religious phraseology of my host people first: “glory to God,” “God is great,” and so on. It helps me talk about God early on. And there is nothing more motivating to study language than the thrill of magnifying our Savior, even in the smallest way possible, in the local language. Each new word is a new tool to magnify God to your host people.
DREAM ABOUT USING YOUR NEW WORDS TO PERSUADE OTHERS TO FOLLOW CHRIST
The languages the remaining unreached peoples speak are most often very difficult for native English speakers. So, perhaps, our job is harder today than a few hundred years ago. Be that as it may, the greater the disparity between our native and learned language, the greater the opportunity to display the love of a God who humbled Himself to become like us. Think about that during your study times. The word you learn today may be the critical word of persuasion to Christ for your host people one day.
EVALUATE YOUR MOTIVES
Are there any idols to repent of? Perhaps an approval idol: You just want your supporters to know you are not “wasting” their money. Perhaps you are believing the lie that once you speak the language, then you will be useful to God. Watch out for negative emotions: complaining, anger, impatience, grumpiness. These are all common symptoms of idolatry. The problem is that idols are horrible motivators. Idols are fake gods, and as such, they don’t come through on their promises. So if idolatry is at the root of your motivation to learn a language, then you will be left unsatisfied and, eventually, unmotivated.
PRAY FOR MORE LOVE
No matter how hard you work, no matter how good your language ability, no matter how many people you share the gospel with, no matter how effective your ministry seems to be, no matter how early you get up or late you go to bed, no matter what others think of you, … if you do not have love, you have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Let that sink in. BUT, if you have God’s love for the people, it will compel you to endless hours of language study and practice so that your host people might know God and make Him known (2 Cor. 5:14).