Confessions of Cross-Cultural Learner

“And that is good news!” I proclaimed exultantly in Croatian.  The others around the table stared at me, baffled, and then began laughing.  I had felt (over)confident that I accurately understood my friend’s description of God’s love—except I failed to comprehend the last two sentences. But how important could two sentences be when I followed most of the rest?

“What is good news?  pfgjlske dijfjsl dkjilljj alskjfjek?”  my friend asked me, repeating the same last sentence that I still could not understand. I panicked, lost my confidence, and feebly uttered an explanation of what I meant.  Unfortunately, since I was now flustered, my intended, “It’s good news that God loves us, ” came out as, “God to our love.”  I saw the Roma couple  we were talking to subtly look at each other, and the woman slightly raised her eyebrows to her husband and wait….was that an eye roll?  Since I don’t know the Roma culture very well, I wasn’t sure how to interpret those non-verbals.  But even so, I felt a flush of shame and embarrassment, frustration at my inability to express myself, and a subtle flash of anger that I again felt…well…stupid in front of people.

Most of the time I can laugh at myself, along with other people, at the sometimes ridiculous things I say in my  attempts to communicate.  But sometimes I am tired, and I want to feel adequate, to feel that somehow I  am in charge, proficient, and important.  Partially at the root of this, I’ll admit, is a desire to impress people with my competence and rapid language acquisition.

Not a particularly attractive motivation,  but the best cure to root out such a hollow desire is to continue on this laborious, often frustrating path of language learning.  I have accepted that I am merely an average language learner. I cannot remember a word or phrase when I hear it the first time but have to write everything down and apply copious amounts of memorization and practice.  This involves consistently using my four-year-old communication skills, to be willing to laugh at myself, accept my weaknesses, and allow other people to exercise compassion and patience toward me.

I have said before that I believe immersing oneself in another culture is a kind of spiritual discipline.  It requires a consistent and intentional posture of learning and listening, a humble acceptance of your position of weakness and dependence, and a willingness to confront your own character flaws that often bare their unsightly faces when your cultural preferences rub against another’s.

But this place of weakness allows encounter with Christ in new and sometimes surprising ways.  And certainly, as I learn and observe new cultures,  my amazement over God’s creativity and redemptive goodness continues to pummel me like unending ocean waves.

On this Good Friday, I am reminded that Jesus entered fully into human frailty—it was in this human weakness that he walked steadily toward the cross and it was in this weakness that the power of God defeated death.    Yes, I want to feel competent and important, but entering into another culture reminds me that it is actually through my weakness that Christ’s power can work most potently—it is not about me, it is about him.  Now, that is Good News!


10 responses to “Confessions of Cross-Cultural Learner

  1. Mel, such a transparent testimony is good news for us as we remember the suffering of Christ on the Cross. Thank you for sharing that moment in your newsletter.
    Being aware of our emotions is divine sensitivity to allow God works inside us as we grow everyday as a new creation in Him.
    I am blessed by this newsletter.
    Keep sharing and writing to us.


  2. Thanks for sharing your heart, Melody, and thanks for bringing God-in-flesh in a new light for me. Praying that the work Christ did at the cross and the meaning of his resurrection for us would forever amaze and humble us.

  3. Well said, Mel…A potent reminder of what can happen when we dare to admit weakness, and in so doing, see His strength anew.

  4. I remember walking around with a little pocket booklet writing down words and phrases and laboriously memorizing the words in the booklet whenever I was walking anywhere. I remember saying stupid stuff and looking stupid all the time. Hang in there!

    I like your connection with Christ coming into our culture.


  5. AMEN, sister! Couldn’t have said it better myself. But a humble spirit will get you far in the process, I think. 😉

  6. Melody,
    As I read your continuing struggles with a new culture and language-learning, and empathizing with you, your two sentences at the end gave me a smile. Let me hope that they did the same to you: IT IS NOT ABOUT ME. IT IS ABOUT HIM. NOW, THAT IS GOOD NEWS!
    An Australian young lady like you who too was called to take the Good News to Spain once talked about how sometimes she would look sheepishly as she communicated with the Spanish and stumbled over words and would feel like telling them, “I am also intelligent!”
    As a new person in Paris, I called an Information Desk to ask for an Anglican church and a lady who answered me, said, ‘If you can’t speak French, what are you doing in Paris?’ She gave me the information anyway. Bon courage & keep the faith; one day you’ll get there and you’ll be surprised at how much you know.
    Happy Easter!


  7. Bob and Joanne

    Melody, thank you for sharing your experiences. How often we learn that lesson, that it’s all about HIM and His enabling power! That is very Good News! Thank you for sharing with such transparency, wisdom and wit!

    This morning, a lovely lavender woven scarf arrived, and both Bob and I are touched by your thoughtfulness. It’s perfect timing for the SVPC “All Fools Day” which has a tourist-look theme tomorrow. Love the color. Muchas gracias!
    Con Amor,

  8. Great story Mel! I am right there with you in the language/culture learning curve! The biggest difference is you are spending your time in deep, meaningful, spiritual conversations and I’m hanging out with the 4-10 year olds whose language is more similar to my Indonesian right now! ;D You are incredibly courageous and capable… I am inspired!
    Looking forward to hearing about Serbia!

  9. Pingback: The still waters of Him: A meditation on home | Balkan Voices

  10. Pingback: Reflections at 5: Forays into weakness | Balkan Voices

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