Friday, May 25, 2007

Two tongues

Sitting in a closed room this week with people who spoke a different language to me was an eye opener for one who always has his language in English and somehow unconsciously demands it. I was watching the “Jesus” film as it is commonly referred to, but translated into Zulu of which the only words I understood were “Sawubona Jesu!” There was not only a language problem. The video was stretched and the voices muffled by a perpetual noise in the background. It was going to be two hours of endurance by the looks of things. The experience was quite other than I assumed it would be. It got me thinking about the Pentecost story and how it translated into this micro situation in Mpophomeni. Here I was flummoxed by the Zulu whilst everybody else was glued to the TV despite the apparent difficulty to hear it. One lady in the corner of the room was in tears by the end. The Gospel message was being translated for her via a TV set and a film in her own language. The whole experience reminded me of the importance of translation. Firstly of the great importance of translating the message we have into the languages of all people so they may understand the scriptures in their own mother tongue. Then there is the need for Christians to cherish this gift of different languages and inspiration to learn the languages of the context so they may truly understand the hearts and needs of the people they are with. There is nothing more edifying than a person who is prepared to call somebody by their real name and not another language name. Mistrust and misunderstanding is so quickly built up when we cannot talk one another’s language. The great thing about the Pentecost gift was that they actually spoke the languages of the world. It was not some ‘heavenly’ language that was later practiced by the Corinthian Church that nobody could understand. Pentecost is all about translation issues. The Church’s role in many ways is a translation bureau that helps our world communicate effectively. Without it, we will always stare at each other from opposite sides of the fence, smiling but never understanding, nodding but never grasping, and with the slightest excuse we can turn away, because we never really understood.

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