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27 June 2018

Languages of Love

Languages of Love

Linguæ Christi is among the Christian organisations around the UK that are making Jesus known in people's heart language. Naomi Osinnowo, the Evangelical Alliance's editorial content manager, catches up with the general director, Rev John Robinson, to find out what the charity is up to and the difference it's making.

I'm no clairvoyant, of course, but I reckon chances are, the vast majority of people reading this article are fluent in English, and it's their first language. I'll also hazard a guess that a good percentage of readers haven't heard of Zeêuws. Zee-what? Zeêuws is a Germanic minority language of the Netherlands, spoken by 220,000 people on the planet. I hadn't heard of  it either, until I read a good chunk of Linguæ Christi's 76-page Vision and Introductory Paper

Zeêuws is one of the many European indigenous minority languages that feature in those pages. Although probably unfamiliar to many of us, for the individuals, families and communities who speak these languages, they are their native tongues, or, as John Robinson puts it, their heart languages, with which God readily communicates with them. Giving an example of a Christian ceremony where the linguistically diverse congregation was asked to sing the final verse of a popular gospel song in their mother tongues, John says, "God speaks with everyone in their heart languages, whatever it may be, making it important enough for me to speak to them in their heart language."

One race, many tongues

It's this very truth about our supernatural God that is the philosophical backbone of Linguæ Christi's missional work. "We believe firmly that everyone in the world has the right to receive and experience the gospel in his or her heart language," asserts US-born John, who settled in rural Wales after being sent there as a missionary. So, after spending two decades in the country, during which he learnt the language and became a British citizen, John set up Linguæ Christi in 2016 to share the good news about Jesus Christ with speakers of more than 150 European minority languages. Among them are, perhaps, the more familiar, and definitely more local, Manx Gaelic, which is spoken by 2,000 people, according to Linguæ Christi statistics, and Welsh Cymraeg, which is spoken by 700,000 worldwide. 

To preach the gospel to non-believers from these specific language groups, which are based in greater Europe, in their heart languages, the Wales-based organisation has devised a tactic that encompasses three core areas of work: missions, networks and advocacy. "We seek to embrace this calling in active mission service, as in boots on the ground engaging with these people groups; by serving as a network, and thereby helping to bring together a variety of individuals, organisations, and churches; and through advocacy," says John. He explains that advocacy – being the champion of these language groups through language-specific church planting and other avenues – is a crucial part of Linguæ Christi's efforts, because it's all too easy for these communities to be overlooked due to dominant national languages. 

"If we missionaries were in, say, Africa, we wouldn't be having a conversation about speakers of minority languages being overlooked and whether we should speak with these people in their heart languages instead of, say, French, Portuguese or English, a colonial language. We would learn their language in order to relate to them, and people in modern mission wouldn't dispute this," stresses John. "But some people forget that Europeans have been colonising their neighbours for centuries, which has given rise to 'trade' languages and minority languages. Add to this the rise of the nation state, and the focus has been taken off speakers of these minority languages. The work is so obscure, but there are huge numbers of people who speak these tongues; unfortunately, they have been forgotten by the modern missionary movement."

Melting pot heaven

John quotes verse nine from chapter seven of the book of Revelation – "after this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" – and in view of this reality to come, says it starts now, on earth. John urges us, therefore, to acknowledge this type of ministry, because it's addressing an issue that is deep both personally and sociologically. "Language is important to these people; it's part of their identify and their community," he says. "Sharing the gospel with them in their heart language helps communicate that we are one in Christ without having to be uniform in culture and language. This is the type of belonging that will change the world." 

But John admits that to make a success of this project is no easy feat, not least because, as he says, the work is obscure and 'trade' languages are prominent. However, over the 24 months since he founded Linguæ Christi, and in the years leading up to the venture, he's come across many individuals and organisations that are active in this field and, like him, want to make the gospel and church life more accessible by reaching people in their heart language. John says that if among our readers there is anyone who can add value to this ministry through, for instance, research or connections, he's keen to hear from you. Although, first and foremost, "we need prayer," he says. "Please pray for us and look up these things and think about them." 

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