“Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“If I had an hour to share the gospel with someone I would spend 55 minutes listening.”
– Francis Schaeffer
I really want to have some Front Yard Conversations with my friends and neighbors, but I can’t yet. At least not in depth. I’m a language learner. People in my community can only communicate with me in the ways I’m capable of understanding at my level of language. Of course there are some people in my life that speak a little English and I do speak some of their language, but we can’t reach one another’s hearts. Reaching a deeper level of friendship is what I want. And while having the right words and a common language is part of it, there is so much more. Even if I could magically be fluent in my new language, I would still want more time to learn about the way the people around me view the world before opening my mouth to say very much. Most of the way my new friends view every aspect of life– relationships, marriage, parenting, God, morality, truth, success, family, sin, love, forgiveness and everything else…is very different from my own take on life.
For example, I know what the word “sin” means to me. I know what my Creator says “sin” is. But to some of my new friends, “sin” means killing an animal. If I begin throwing around a word like “sin” and I’m using it according to what I believe, failing to take into consideration what my new friends believe, there is going to be some serious confusion going on. I could accidentally offend someone deeply without ever knowing it. Also, my nonverbal communication matters. I could be fluent in the language and know how to use the correct words in the right context, all the while being distracting or rude with my tone of voice or body language. That’s why I must never stop listening to and learning from the people around me. Loving God with my whole heart and loving my neighbor as myself begins with a lot of listening and learning– no matter where in the world I am. It will not happen fast. That’s okay–even good. Instead of panicking and jumping into conversations or work that I’m not adequately equipped to handle, I have the opportunity to listen and learn for a while.
Hopefully I’ll never stop learning, even after my formal language study is finished. Meanwhile, my community and friends can begin to understand me and see the hope I’ve found in Christ, fleshed out in the daily grind of my imperfect life. And if I happen to have an opportunity to share with someone, where good understanding can take place, I will. But I will not force anything. This is my Creator’s work and He does not need me to come up with an agenda and enforce it, but to follow His lead in how He wants to work through my family in this place.
In every single relationship I have, understanding is filtered through layers of culture, personality, and personal life experiences that affect the giving and receiving of information. Loving my neighbor as myself, enjoying genuine friendship, doing life together, serving others, and sharing the good news of Jesus– it is so much more than knowing the correct words to say in someone’s language. It is helping others understand me. It is growing in my understanding of them. It is learning, listening, and observing, so that when my friends and I are trying to communicate, there is clear understanding.
While none of us ever gets the process of communication down perfectly, we can help it along. This can happen whether we’re communicating with someone from our home country or across cultures. I am absolutely not an expert at understanding people or communication, but I want to share a few more things I’ve learned.
I’ll do that next week in the final part of this post. I’m recovering from some minor medical things and I need to pace myself a little more than usual in my weekly schedule 🙂
Thanks for reading!
PS…Something I want to write about soon is how my cross cultural experiences have freed me to change in ways that better reflect my Creator. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to learn from friends around the world.
©2018Chrissy Winslow – All Rights Reserved
Some books I’ve read in the past:
- Make Haste SLOWLY! – Growing Effective Intercultural Communication
by Donald K. Smith
- Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility
by Duane Elmer
- We Are Not the Hero by Jean Johnson