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Ice Fishing... And the Gospel?

During this year, we want to keep reminding you of one of the driving forces behind what we do among people groups around the world. That driving force is heart language ministries. Last year we explained the different aspects of heart language ministries: culture and language acquisition, literacy, Bible translation and Bible lesson preparation for sharing the gospel with the unreached.

Culture and language acquisition — Hmm, sounds highfalutin, doesn’t it? And yet the goal is to become so fluent in the language of the people among whom you are living that you can share both the simple story of redemption and all the complexities of abstract terms and ideas. For instance, if the language being learned does not have abstract nouns, then how do you express grace, mercy, justification and a plethora of other terms that we use to describe God’s character?

Well, here, let me use the story of Jason and Laken Cizdziel as they are in the last stages of their culture and language acquisition time. They minister among the Uriay people of Papua New Guinea. This is Jason talking about becoming fluent in Uriay.

“Yesterday our two scheduled language helpers Jebri and Fabel didn’t show up. They hiked upriver a couple hours to another village and likely got trapped by the big rains we’ve been having. I found Fabel’s wife, Imi (pictured above), who is one of the oldest, smallest, frailest ladies in our village, and she agreed to sit down with us and help us learn language. We love Imi. She likely only weighs 80 pounds, has [almost no] teeth but a deep, raspy smoker’s voice. We sat for a couple of hours and took turns telling stories. She occasionally would stop and correct things we said imperfectly, but the best part of my day was watching her toothless smile form as we finished each story.

Uriay woman

“Her smile meant that she understood us in her own language [emphasis by editor]. That even as our stories are growing longer and more complex, she can hear us in her own mother tongue. Which means we are getting close to sharing the gospel story with the Uriay people, which they heard once before but have almost entirely forgotten.

“My recent stories in the language have included describing how ice fishing works, giving instructions on how to play the guitar and describing how and why I admonished my children to play soccer by the rules. Our stories are branching into genres beyond simple narrative stories. This is how we prepare ourselves to share the complexities in the Scriptures to the people.

“How would you explain ice fishing to someone whose world doesn’t naturally have ice? Here’s an English-ed version of how it happened yesterday:

I’m going to tell you a story about a behavior we have in our root place, in America.

Some days our place is cold. Even though the sun shines, it is still very cold. So cold that you have to cover your body with lots of clothes. If you don’t cover your body with lots of clothes, the cold wind will make your hands die like when you sleep on top of your arm and can’t move it — it just hangs there. That is how cold our place is.

In our cold place, if you want to catch fish, you can’t because the water becomes so cold it gets hard. The water becomes so cold, the surface changes its decoration (color), and you can walk on top of it. If you throw your hook at it, it will just sit on top. How will you catch fish?

This is what we do. We get a machete and cut a hole in the surface of the hard water. Then you can look down and see good water underneath. Only the water on top is hard. The water underneath is still good; the fish are still walking around under the hard-water.

Then we put the little ground snake (worm) on the hook and throw it down through the hole. When the fish pulls on the string, we pull it up through the hole. Then we put another ground snake on the hook and do it again.

You have to be fast because the hole in the cold hard-water will become hard again. Once you pulled enough fish, you go back to your house and eat. That’s what we do.

My words are finished here.

“It may seem silly that we sit around and tell bizarre stories all day. But if we can’t communicate brand-new abstract concepts accurately, how can we be trusted to describe the unseen reality of the Kingdom of God come to life on earth through the Holy Spirit living inside the hearts of those who believe that a man named Jesus was raised from the dead?

“That is our task, and this is our process.”

What a reminder to us of all that those in culture and language acquisition must go through to be able to tell of God’s love and concern for the people among whom they live! For me, the main reason for going through all that learning is so well expressed by Jason: “We want to see that toothless, understanding smile after clearly telling God’s life-giving story, not just after an ice fishing story.”

Tags: Culture and Language, Partner to Partner,
POSTED ON May 15, 2020 by Bruce Enemark

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