As I reflect on the past 10-days, there is one thing that sticks out to me as the most difficult part of the trip to India. It wasn't the food (how many ways can you prepare rice?). It wasn't the driving (lane markings and traffic signals have no meaning). It wasn't even the dirt and trash and poverty.
The hardest part of being in India is the difficulty in communication. Every day I was there it was a struggle to understand even a small percentage of what was being said. Many of the drivers or guides spoke only broken English, and the ones who knew English well still had a very strong accent. I found myself worn out just trying to listen to and analyze every word. I had to constantly think of alternative ways to say something if they couldn't figure out what I was saying.
There were times when I thought we were communicating, but it was obvious later that we weren't. Or times when I thought I was supposed to be ready and waiting at a certain time only to find out I had heard the time wrong. There were some conversations where everything within me wanted to give up--it just wasn't worth all the work.
I wonder how many people visit our churches and feel the same thing? How many try a church once or twice but for them it is like visiting a foreign country. From the time they walk in the front door the culture is very much different than anything they are familiar with. They listen to the message but find themselves having to work very hard just to understand a small percentage of what is being said.
I wonder how many churches have forgotten they are in a foreign culture? Rather than do the work required to communicate in the language of the common people, they require the common people to learn their language.
Anytime I write about something we are doing to help translate the gospel in a creative way (like here), I get lots of comments from pastors who blast me. They say, "Isn't the Bible enough?" Or, "You should just be able to quote Scripture and people will come."
Let me just clear the confusion: No, the Bible isn't enough. It wasn't for Jesus. He quoted from Scripture, but then added stories and pulled in examples that his culture would relate to. It wasn't for Paul either. He quoted from Scripture--and from secular philosophers and poets.
If we are going to help people understand the Bible and fall in love with Jesus, we'll need to do it in a way they can understand...and that doesn't require them to do all the work.
Let's make our churches a little easier for guests than visiting a foreign country.