Hangin' Out in Karongue

Hangin' Out in Karongue

Saturday, February 18, 2012

"Must Have" Items for Language Learning

For the language learning missionary there are some "must have" items that he better make sure he packed as he begins his language learning journey. Let me share with you four of them that we are glad we brought with us to Canada as we learn French.
The first is patience. I remember my father telling me countless times as a young person that "Rome wasn't built in a day." This simple statement was his reminder to me that there is time and that there are certain things that you just cannot rush. Learning a second language is one of them. There is no such thing as "15 Minute French" no matter what the package on the CDs at Costco may say! We were recently reminded by a native French speaker that it took them a lifetime to learn to speak the way they do, so we should not be surprised that we are where we are at in language learning after only a few months. With hard work and determination the language will come, but it will take time and patience. Rome was not built in a day and French is not learned in two months.
The second "must have" is perseverance. Language learning is just plain hard work. And a lot of the hard work comes without demonstrable progress. There are days when you are on top of the language learning mountain; like when you are able to order a hamburger at McDonalds without the cashier giggling. Then there are other days, and these seem to come more often, when you cannot understand what the kid in first grade is saying to you because his vocabulary is so expansive! But this calls for perseverance. Cherish the victories at McDonalds and giggle with the first graders as they talk about you (in French so that you cannot understand them!), but keep going and persevere. There is no other way to learn.
The third thing the language learning missionary must have is a good memory. Not just to remember the words written on the stacks and stacks of French flashcards, but to remember why he is going through the painful process of language learning in the first place. He is learning a second language for the sake of the Gospel and the unreached peoples who need that Gospel so desperately. One of the first things that we did when we arrived in Canada was to hang a big map of Senegal up on the center wall in our living room. We did this to remind us of why we are here. Learning French cannot be separated from the faces of the people of southern Senegal who need to hear the message of the Gospel; a message that must be communicated to them in a way and in a language that they can understand. If we forget this then language learning will all too quickly become merely academic, rather than the purposeful equipping for ministry for the sake of those who need to hear.
But the last, and I would say most important, thing that the language learning missionary must have is a firm understanding of who they are in Christ. It is amazing how intrinsic our first language is to who we are as a person. It is the language of our heart that we laugh in and dream in and pray in. It is a part of who we are. As you immerse yourself in a new language there is the feeling that a part of you, a real and deep part of you, is being loosed from the moorings that have held it firmly for your whole life. When this happens there is a part of your identity that is shaken deeply. And at that time you must find your identity in Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. Your identity and worth come solely from who you are in Jesus and from nothing else. And this truth will sustain you when you cannot speak and when you are discouraged and when those "deer in the headlights" moments come in class, in the store, at church, and everywhere else. The language learning missionary must know that his identity comes from the finished work of Jesus and not from his progress in language acquisition. So this frees him to jump head-long into learning while at the same time wholeheartedly pursue Jesus Christ as the source of his joy and identity and worth.
We packed our bags for language learning in Canada at the end of December. But thankfully, God had been packing these truths into our lives for the last fifteen years. And He never forgets to pack anything that we need for the journey; especially the long and hard journey of language learning.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Signs that Language Learning is Difficult

Earlier this week we were preparing to leave to go to our language helper's home to work on our French. As I was putting my shoes on Gayle said, "I am ready to go."

My response, "All I have to do is put on my shoes and then we can leave."

She then said, "That is not what I am talking about. I mean I am ready to go and be with Jesus. This language learning is so difficult!"

Thankfully, God brings moments of humor to keep things going in the midst of the stress of learning a second language!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ezra and Thea: First Week of School

Going to a new school is difficult. Especially when you have been home-schooled your entire life. And even more especially when that new school is in a new country. And most especially when everyone in your new school speaks a language that you do not know. But that is what Ezra and Thea experienced this week as they started school here in Quebec.

The process of getting them into school took over a month as we met with immigration and administration from the school. We all wanted to get them into the class that would be the best fit for them. In the end, instead of placing them in the "Welcoming-Class" where most of the immigrants start to get acclimated, we all agreed on them beginning in the regular French speaking classrooms.

Tuesday was the big day! At 8:00 we left our apartment for the two mile ride to school. We arrived about 15 minutes early, parked the van on the road in front of the school, and prayed that God would remind them throughout the day of His presence and that He would make them courageous as they learned to trust Him in a new way.

Once inside Ez was quickly taken to his classroom while Thea was told that she had music class in the library. I sat with her until her class came. As we sat there holding hands in silence and anticipation her eyes started to fill with tears. I could not blame her as it was pretty scary for me too. At 8:30 her class came through the doors and began to point at her and say, "Tia Boid! Tia Boid!" They were expecting their new classmate. I winked at "Tia" and smiled and left her at her new school in a new country where they speak a new language. And all the way home and all through the day I prayed for her and her brother.

That was five days ago and at the end of the week both children gave their new school a "9 out of 10!" Ezra's teacher says that he is a "pearl" and she told him on his first day that it was the first, and last, day that she would speak English to him. Thea's teacher is easing her into French by allowing her to serve as his "secretary" while she gets used to the classroom and the new school. They both like their teachers and have already made new friends.

On Ezra's second day his teacher sent him to get something from his backpack. After looking for it in the boys locker in the hallway, and being unable to find it, he returned to tell his teacher that it was gone. She then, in French, dispatched another student who quickly retrieved it from the girls locker. With a smile she told Ez, "There is much to learn, isn't there?" Indeed there is.

On Wednesday Thea had English class and her fellow students were stunned at how quickly she finished her assignment. When they asked her about it she responded, "I can speak English...and write it too! Booyah!" Some things do not change no matter what country you happen to be in!

This week was a big deal for Ez and Thea. And it was a big deal for me as well. A big deal because I was reminded of how blessed I am to have some great kids that, when pressed to do so, can show amazing courage and strength. School is still not going to always be easy, but God is always going to be good. And I pray that God would use this time to teach them even more about His faithfulness and goodness and about the power of the presence of God with His people. There are no better lessons to learn at school than those.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quebec Fun!

At our school, Parole de Vie, they are having Snow Camp every weekend this month, which means an additional 120 or so young people are here on campus. While the campers were at chapel today, all the Missionary Kids (and maybe an adult missionary or two!) got together and took their tubes and commandeered their tube run. This video is the result: