Monday, November 26, 2012

Bound by one language. It's Humbling.

The week before Thanksgiving, I had the distinct privilege to collaborate with people from other continents at the 2012 Global Teams Strategic Planning Conference.  The opportunity came as a result of collaborating with Ubabalo and One Hope as a writer for "Coaching for Life", a document conceived in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and now in field test around the globe. Many of you provided prayer and financial support for the Stellenbosch trip, so you are somewhat responsible for launching me into the world of Sports ministry.

Your prayer support for this current venture made all the difference in this most recent endeavor.  I apologize, the holidays have delayed me in reporting back, but know reflections of the work accomplished and the connections made have been on my heart and in my mind daily.

As an American girl with a privileged and admittedly naive US perspective, I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the GTSP, but anxiously prayed God would use me or at least use the experience to teach me.  I confess my fervent prayer was I wouldn't make a fool of myself or worse yet, offend the others around the tables by jumping in a day late.  (I had another meeting in Colorado that overlapped with the Global Sport Conference putting me one day behind the rest. I wasn't so sure I'd be able to get up to speed.) 

The first morning, I was treated to a warm welcome from every person I encountered during breakfast. Two hundred people from all over the world introduced themselves enthusiastically... at 7am, before their first cup of coffee/tea, no less.  After breakfast, I reunited with friends from Stellenbosch and that  helped me feel even more at ease. Yep, total strangers from other countries made ME feel comfortable with warm greetings in excellent English... in MY country no less.  Humbling...

Yes, there were plenty of Aussies and Brits around, but for the majority of people English was their second or third language and they spoke it, fluently.  I recall thinking I should have paid more attention in French class or chosen to study Spanish because I tend to find myself tongue tied in English!

Breakfast was easy enough, but my next step would be to find my Project Team - a group a day ahead of me in familiarity and task development.  When I finally found my team's table, I introduced myself as a writer.  I was welcomed instead as if a long lost friend.   Our facilitator said I was bringing much needed new energy to the process.  I think what she was sensing was nervous energy, but I was grateful for her enthusiastic and encouraging introduction just the same. I looked around the table at Christians from the United Kingdom, Egypt, Singapore, Africa, Russia, India and the US.  Each represented different sports ministry but one Lord. We prayed together as one united in Christ, then quickly got to work.

Before I even arrived I realized our task was somewhat vague or else it was appropriately unstructured. To this day, I can't say for sure.  As I understood it, my Project Team were charged to address children as leaders and create a document to help others in the international Christian sports movement identify and mentor children with leadership potential.  We had spent some time emailing each other, gathering information and poising questions to bring focus of purpose, but past that I was clueless.  Much to my relief and before my arrival, my international colleagues had identified, quantified and qualified the task at hand. They also had it neatly recorded on several pieces of chart paper displayed on the adjacent wall.

Looking at me for some fresh perspective, they let me scan their notes then poised the question, "What is the definition of child leadership?" Arrogantly, I wondered why that wasn't fleshed out already, but I was happy to be asked about one thing I had researched.  So, like everyone else around the table I scribbled my definition onto a sticky note and tossed it into the middle of the table.  Thank God, we were on the same page.  Our definitions were worded differently, but basically the same. Also, thank God, they were seeking a definition to simply affirm what they'd already accomplished.  What a relief!

With a working definition, our Project Team divided the writing task into bite sized pieces and broke into smaller groups to write the Why, What or How portion of a white paper on Child Leadership. Each day, we started the morning with prayer, compared notes and kept refining our portions.  By week's end we created a solid working document which we will edit and add to over the coming months.

Working together on anything does create familiarity and friendship, so our Project Team had our fair share of laughter and joking with each other.  We took time to inquire about families, ministries and share photos during breaks, sharing cultural tidbits under the guise of sharing about our lives. The  testimonies and spiritual struggles shared were so inspirational, especially for this "free to be Christian"from American whose closest brush with persecution involved being the only UNC fan in a room full of NCSU fans.

I've experienced this closeness of purpose before, but I seriously cannot recall working with a more unified and productive team on a writing task!  It's rare to find that level of unity of purpose and cooperative spirit in ministry work here in the US.  We aspire to it.  We study and train to do it, but we usually fall short.  Our egos, personal agenda and lack of discipline may be to blame, but I DO know it's not language or culture that trips us up.

Here's my "Ah-ha!". All my other writing experiences were with "writers" composing in English - their first language.   I had so many take aways at GTSP, both spiritual and observational, but this one tops them all.  The majority of people on this writing team were composing in their second language and none of them considered themselves writers!  Add to that, two of our team mates were dealing with some very serious medical emergencies or ministry deadlines back home.  (We actually spent more time around the table in prayer addressing those specific spiritual needs than we did writing.)

As the "writer" on this Project team, I found myself humbled in my own country and language.  First off, they were visitors in my country, yet they made me feel welcome and at home among them.  I know my southern accent was probably difficult to understand, but they always listened intently and got my meaning, regardless.  Language was never a barrier.  A few times, my colleagues would apologize for struggling for the right word to express a thought.  All I could think was I do that ALL THE TIME and I speak English exclusively.  As for spelling, I enjoyed teasing my UK team mate because she used WAY too many "u"s and "i"s, but I know if not for spell check, I couldn't spell any better than my Egyptian, Russian and African team mates.  Each afternoon, I marveled at their compositions, both clearly stated and concise, knowing I couldn't write a single letter, much less word in Hindi, Russian or Arabic!

This humbling experience and "Ah-Ha!" won't result in my learning to speak or write a new language.  Language nor writing has ever been my gifts.  I struggle with both.  What has happened is this year my world has expanding beyond the safe borders of the USA.

This humbling "Ah-Ha!" has successfully shaken me out of my comfort zone -  my ethnocentric world view.  I now realize I must be sensitive to the needs and cultures of all God's children - all over the world.  To that end, I'm experiencing a yearning to understand perspectives of people from outside the USA.  I've already experienced a taste of what they can teach me about loving God.  I need more time to listen and learn.

Tonight, even though I'm helplessly bound by one language. I'm thankfully God's NOT bound by one language... or any language for that matter.  With God there are no bounds. It is a relief to know no one is depending upon ME, or my gifts and talents. All I need do is play my part on the team.  With or without me,  dedicated faith-filled people all over the world will  continue sharing God's love and His Gospel in the face of adversity and opposition in their own country and language, because they too cling to God's boundless love for protection and assurance.

If writing lessons and training tools to reach children for Christ will make the work more effective,  I will continue to write in my one language, knowing God, who knows no bounds, is providing others who can translate what I have to offer into languages I will never understand and might never hear spoken.

Go Ahead - Google it!