As of late, I find myself trying to reach across severe language barriers. Although Massachusetts is not a large state, it stands seventh highest in number of legal immigrants who live within its border. So many have such deep needs and so limited an ability to even communicate them. I try so very hard to reach out and sometimes feel helpless in doing so. How am I to bridge the gulf? How can I engage in a ministry of caring?
I am beginning to see that part of our ministry as Christ followers is to minister to those whose language we do not speak. We do this by simply living out our convictions. As we are instructed in the Word, we can obey, share, and love, and the Holy Spirit can empower.
I think of God’s ability to communicate; of how Jesus came to bridge the gulf and how he was himself the Living Word. His own life reminds us that the message is not only what we say, but also what we do. I have come to realize that as we demonstrate Christ’s love, we can communicate by our lives some of the values of biblical equality. The Bible says that we are living letters (2 Cor. 3:2) even when our language is faulty. I have found this to be true in three recent happenings in my life.
A woman with a severe medical problem came to her church community for help with her visa. She was denied help because she was a voice insisting on the equality of men and women. In this church, I preached sermons about God’s use of women in leadership, and she is discovering that women can have a voice. She also knows that I am struggling to learn her language as I supply her with books and other resources on biblical equality. I am to be her mentor as she engages in a training course for immigrant lay leaders. Her vision is becoming a reality!
In an evangelical immigrant enclave that retains its own language, customs, and churches, but cannot acknowledge the domestic abuse in its midst, I was given the opportunity to proclaim what the Bible says about abuse. I had been warned that the pastors would not listen to a woman, but they had to acknowledge the truth of the Scriptures I shared. Now they ask that I come back to speak to the women. This means working with community leaders, shelter and social workers, and gray-haired clergy. The common core is the excitement over what can be found in God’s great message and how relevant it has proven to meet contemporary social needs.
There is a student who has been sent here from Kazakhstan with little understanding of the English language or American academic requirements, and has no place to live. For this student who has come from a very new nation, there is an opportunity for him to see how women are received in the academic world as we try to help him negotiate many challenges. Even locating a competent interpreter is difficult! It’s still too early even to figure out the fine print on his visa. In the meantime, of course, there is an opportunity to do all of the things Jesus told us to do: feed the hungry, take in the stranger, and try to steer him through the shoals and quicksand of American life.
All too often, we forget the power of the Holy Spirit working through us when we are faced with barriers like language. Not only can we overcome these barriers, but we can proclaim the biblical truth of equality while doing so! We must never lose sight of our great witness as truth bearers in all situations.