April 14, 2010
A Unifying Christ
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God - Romans 15:6,7
A couple years ago, I spent two weeks with missionary friends in France. Over the course of those days, I learned a bit about buying baguettes, European clothing sales and measurements, and where to watch for pickpockets. I picked up a couple helpful phrases, (often falling back on the always-applicable "pardon" and "bonjour"), took the RER train system, and frequented the French version of Walmart (it's called Auchan). I got used to hearing a language that made little sense to me in the streets. But two weeks did not instill a sense of belonging. I loved the experience, but the language barrier was too great to tempt me into staying.
The most nerve-wracking moments - for us unilingual Americans - came the day our hosts had other commitments. We were left to attempt a trip into Paris on our own, without our erstwhile friend/guide/translator. In reality, the abundance of English-speaking Frenchmen should have made us easy, but we still felt painfully and distinctly not French. It was intimidating to jump on the RER with its quiet passengers, who knew the route better than we did and would immediately identify us if we opened our mouths. We stuck with "pardon" for the train ride, though we later chickened out and ask the restaurant's waiter if he spoke English. He said, "Yeah, sure."
Perhaps the most rewarding evening of the trip was a birthday celebration at our hosts' home, when several of their French friends came for dinner. The language barrier still existed, but its unease lifted during that evening. We all made linguistic blunders - some of which were funnier than others. But for all of us, we were united in our mutual friendship of the hosts, and our implicit trust that, well, if he's friends with them, they must be wonderful people. The unspoken bond carried even further in some cases, when we knew we shared a common faith as well as friend.
Our Parisian adventure eventually ended back in Dulles International airport—not the most exciting or warm place in the U.S. But did we ever fell at home! We felt so welcomed and at home. Everything was written in our own language! We could understand the passing comments of strangers! We could joke in line at Starbucks! We could speak without translating in our heads! We could revel in our Americanness because we were home. Our language unified us with total strangers after the immersion of two weeks in France.
Being back in our home culture with our native language made me feel like old friends with total strangers, who probably gave me an odd look at the time. But the unity of our common understanding was wildly apparent to me, and I couldn't help feeling joyful at the strangeness of hearing my own language again.
Compare this to the miracle of Pentecost, when a chaotic world market suddenly burst with understanding. Those standing the cosmopolitan heard a unifying call where they least expected it. They said,
"How is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs--we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (Acts 2:8-11)
After Peter's presentation of the Gospel, three thousand people were convinced of the truth of Christ and believed in Jesus. How does something like that happen?
Intersecting Faith & Life: We so easily forget the uniting power of Christ - in our homes, relationships, churches, etc. Faith transcends any cultural and language barrier on earth when we focus on this shared hope. What I experienced in France was such a small taste of what is possible. The message of the Gospel has reconciled our hearts to Christ, and it has power to reconcile us with each other. Let's speak to each other the language of the Gospel that we may build a culture of grace.