I recall the first time I shared my testimony in another language. I was sitting in a taxi in Bangkok, Thailand, with a sheet of notebook paper in my hand. On the sheet was scribbled about ten sentences that somebody had translated for me earlier that morning. I recited it repeatedly, trying to memorize it, working on the syllables and tones to minimize the mistakes, and trying to sound fluent.
After some taxi talk, I awkwardly asked permission to tell a story. I held the paper up in front of me and read my testimony aloud, stumbling through all ten sentences without taking a breath. My taxi driver patiently asked me to say it again, only this time in my own words so he could understand me. I learned a valuable lesson that day about the importance of presenting the gospel in a person’s heart language.
Many cross-cultural workers struggle to reach a level of language fluency that enables them to effectively and confidently proclaim the gospel in another language. However, the ability to understand and communicate the gospel in another language is within every language learner’s reach. As a cross-cultural Christian worker I cannot imagine anything more deeply satisfying than seeing my unreached neighbors come to Christ as I personally share the gospel with them.
There are many facets to cross-cultural ministry, but none so basic as proclaiming the gospel to those whom we are called to reach, in their own language. This is the heart of the Great Commission, and it is central to our calling. John says it well in 1 John 1:3–4, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you. . . . And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (ESV). It is our joy to behold and tell.
“The ability to understand and communicate the gospel in another language is within every language learner’s reach.”
I want to illustrate a three-step daily process that has helped me and others I have coached to achieve and sustain the ability to share the gospel in another language. Each step in this process takes about one hour. Our goal is what I call gospel fluency—the ability to regularly and confidently communicate the gospel to our neighbors in their language. Mustering the effort and sustaining momentum to reach this goal then becomes the language learner’s challenge.
Study a Scripture Passage in a New Language
The first step is selecting one simple gospel text. I have worked through entire books of the Bible using this process, beginning with the Gospel of Mark. I begin each day reading, digesting, and journaling through a simple, familiar, gospel passage. As I do this, I find that I am not simply learning how to say something in a new language. When I sound out the verses, I’m also hearing the gospel in this new language. As I prayerfully work through the text, hearing the gospel come alive in my heart, I experience the joy of preaching the gospel to myself in this new language. My soul is fed from God’s Word in another language.
We can easily understand biblical texts when we read or hear them in our own language. Once we master basic words and grammar in our host culture’s language, we soon begin to both understand and communicate these texts in that language. Although our ability in our new language may be basic, it provides us the traction we need for ongoing learning.
For example, in reading through Mark 2:1–12 about Jesus healing the paralytic, my expression in another language may be as simple as, “Jesus forgave the man’s sins,” or “Jesus healed the man.” But as I learn to say, “Jesus forgives my sins too”, I am reminded that this is good news for me. No longer am I just learning language. I am both hearing the gospel and learning how to express it myself. This motivates me to learn more, to improve expression, to practice sharing with others around me, and to fluently proclaim the gospel to lost neighbors.
Practice with a Local Friend
In the second hour, I simply practice saying what I have prepared in the first hour. I practice with a trusted friend—perhaps a believer or a disciple. I find this hour to be the most consistently fruitful of my day. It allows me to edit and perfect my language expression, but more importantly, it motivates me to keep working on my language skills.
I do not just read aloud what I’ve journaled, rather I speak extemporaneously. I only refer to my notes if needed. My cospeaker listens with critical and sympathetic interest—editing my expression, prompting dialogue and discussion, and providing cultural insights. Moments like these help me speak and discuss the gospel with greater confidence and fluency. This is rigorous, fruitful labor. It is also a prerequisite to the third hour: proclamation.
Share the Gospel in the Local Language
The first two hours are designed to get us to a point of greater confidence and fluency in using that day’s text for the third hour: presenting the gospel to our lost neighbors. This is not usually a planned or solid third hour, rather simply an estimate of what I hope for—the chance to tell my neighbors the greatest news in the world with reasonable fluency and understandability.
I have found that my awareness of opportunities to proclaim the gospel to those around me increases as I anticipate what God is going to do during this third hour. As I share the gospel, I do so with confidence in the power of God’s Spirit. I listen and pray as the Lord ministers to my neighbors through his Word and my simple testimony. And this is indeed deeply satisfying.
Preston Fidler lives with his wife and sons in Central Asia. He currently works as a language trainer and cross-cultural church planter.