Throughout my life, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to live in other countries, growing up in places such as Lebanon and France. In fact, I was very young when my parents moved our family to Lebanon and didn’t move back to the United States until I was 16 years old. Those experiences cultivated within me a deep love and appreciation for other languages and cultures. Though I’m sure no one would mistake me for a native speaker, I’m able to speak French and Spanish, conversationally, and can get by in Arabic and Russian. I’ve seen what a difference it makes to connect with others in his or her mother tongue—their eyes light up in surprise, they smile in excitement, and a more meaningful conversation tends to ensue.
As I reflected this past weekend on the story of Pentecost, I was reminded how crucial it is to reach others in a way they fully understand—especially when the Gospel is involved.
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God’” (Acts 2:1-11 ESV).
The day of Pentecost is not only the fulfillment of Jesus’s promise that He would send the Holy Spirit, but it also marks the beginning of the Church’s mission to the world. As the Church, we must pay attention to what the Holy Spirit chose to do in this crucial moment.
Instead of giving the crowd a supernatural understanding of Aramaic, the common language of Judea, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the power to speak in other tongues. We even get a very specific list of all the different regions and, therefore, languages that were represented within the crowd. Later in the passage, we find out that 3,000 people were saved that day.
Truly understanding a community’s language goes beyond the spoken word. We must explore their culture, beliefs, behaviors, convictions, influences, and life experiences. The Holy Spirit has the power to lead us into these spaces seamlessly, but the Church should not hesitate to do the necessary research to ensure we communicate the Gospel in the best and most contextualized manner possible.
There is a compelling, intimate, and overwhelming effect when people hear the Gospel in their own language and cultural context. It opens their hearts, minds, and souls in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Pentecost should serve as a constant reminder to the Church. Let’s put in the effort necessary to reach others with God’s truth in a contextualized way—not only when it comes to the mission field, but within our own diverse communities as well.