The photographer and I repeated the same dialogue several times daily.
Me: “No comprendo.”
Federico: “I don’t understand.”
I was in Madrid for a business conference. One of my responsibilities was to manage onsite communications with a three-person local production team. The videographer, Carlos, was fairly fluent in English, but Federico knew little. Although I had studied Spanish in high school and college—and had brushed up on the language before my trip—my Spanish was basic at best.
Fortunately, the third member of the team, Marisa, spoke excellent English. She spent a lot of time translating my instructions for Federico and Carlos. But sometimes she was focused on other tasks, so Federico and I had to communicate without a translator’s assistance.
Often, Federico would grab his phone, access an online Spanish-English dictionary, and translate what he wanted to say to me. The last day of the conference, Federico apologized for not knowing more English. He also spoke about the importance of communication. He said not being able to understand each other made it feel as if there were a wall between us. He was right.
The apostle Paul tried to find common ground when interacting with unbelievers as a way to lead them to Christ. We, too, can discover the language of the nonbelievers we interact with–insecurity, loneliness, fear, anger, rejection–and then look for common ground. Doing so helps avoid building walls and builds bridges instead.
I wonder how often in our faith discussions with nonbelievers that they feel as if an invisible wall separates us. When we use Christian colloquialisms, doctrinal terms, and Scripture references to engage them, sometimes not much gets through. While there’s a time and a place for that level of discussion, it’s better to start with simple, clear expressions of compassion and concern for what’s happening in their lives.
Brush up on the language those you encounter speak.
(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)
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