Understanding without understanding


I wrote a few days ago about the experience of a service where we all offered prayers in our respective languages – a kind of speaking in tongues.

One of the other rich experiences of being at the Extended Cabinets meeting of the Methodist churches in Europe has been to watch and hear people respect each other’s languages.

I often felt inadequate at my lack of facility with language and increasingly angry that I was refused the opportunity to learn my native language, Welsh, when I was in school (partly to do with living in Monmouthshire which, until 1974, was administratively a mongrel county – neither in Wales nor England).

But it has been a joy to realise how much of a language’s meaning you can deduce from inflexion and tone, even if you can’t understand the words: Russian for example. I found that I could follow parts of the German more easily.

The photograph above is of the German pastors singing to us at the final evening worship. It was almost impromptu: done with about 30 minutes notice at the request of Gita, a Latvian minister, and their harmonies were terrific.

But one of the richest uses of language came during the worship as the week together unfolded. Every Bible reading was heard in at least two languages – usually German and English – and occasionally in Russian as well.

We often sang hymns that could be sung in multi-language versions and in the German Methodist book were printed in German and English. On the morning the EurAsian delegation led our worship we sang:

Holy, holy, holy

My heart, my heart adores you

My heart is glad to say the words

You are holy, Lord

and we sang it in Spanish, Russian (with a phonetic translation on the screen), German and English.

There was resistance from some people to using the translation headsets for the main seminars, but for those who were willing to be a part of that way of joining together it was another sign of the unity of this event.

And so now I’m home in Britain with invitations to Norway and Russia (Moscow, St Petersburg and Siberia) and with groups from Latvia and Germany thinking of making visits to see Fresh Expressions projects fror themselves.

It brings home afresh what a responsibility it is to carry the message of God’s grace in action – and what a privilege it is to be a part of the way he moves beyond the barriers we think exist.


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