"Linguistic Hospitality" by Pastor A.J. Houseman
After college I did this program through the ELCA called Young Adults in Global Mission. The program at the time took 50 recent college grads, now its up to about 100 I think, and send us to countries all over the world for a year of service working in churches, schools, health and advocacy organizations.
I was going to Cuernavaca Mexico to serve at a school for people with Down Syndrome.
The thing is though, I didn’t speak Spanish. So this had to be changed before I could go. So the beginning of my Young Adults in Global Mission journey started with 6 weeks of language training in Guatemala. I was ready, I felt prepared, and said, ok God, bring it on.
Now when my parents took me to the airport to begin this journey I found out that my flight was delayed from the start and that I would arrive in Guatemala 10 hours after I was supposed to and I would miss the group shuttle to the language immersion school. But I was not worried, I had 8 hours to spend in the Atlanta airport to get this all straightened out. A few calls to the Global Mission office in Chicago and everything seemed good to go.
At 10PM I arrive in the Guatemala City airport, fly through customs like a breeze. I was asked no questions and the most that was said was, “Buenas Noches.” Until I walked outside.
A mass wall of people stood before me all shouting in a language I could not speak yet, soliciting taxis, hotels, offering to help with my luggage, looking for loved ones and customers. It was mass chaos.
This was the crucial moment when I thought, “Oh My Lord. What have I gotten myself into?!” The moment I realized that I was a 21 year old woman and in a foreign country at night alone. I then began to panic.
How was I supposed to find the one unknown person who was supposed to be picking me up in this sea of unknown faces speaking unknown things to me?
And I just stood there panicked for what seemed like forever, most likely only about 10 minutes when I saw a woman pacing back and forth silently with a sign on a stick that read, “Alejayndra Haysen”. I watched her pace by a few times thinking “hmm, that’s unique name” before I realized, wait a minute that might be me.
And in deed it was. Her name was Raquel and she worked for the school I was going to. She took me to her car with her husband. We drove through a Pollo Campero, they assumed I’d be pretty hungry. Then took me to her house and set me up with a shower and a room. Fed me breakfast the next morning and took me to the bus stop, helped me buy a ticket, and sent me on my way for a 4 hour bumpy mountain drive to Xela.
She was doing this thing that took me awhile to recognize. From the moment I entered her car, she would say something in Spanish then repeat the exact sentence in English for me. The. Entire. Time.
Part of her hospitality was to help me understand both languages and cross the language barrier between me and everyone else around me. It was probably obvious that I was scared and nervous.
Raquel was able to bridge over my fears and anxieties with the hospitality of language.
This is the gift that the Holy Spirit gave to the disciples gathered outside of Jerusalem in the beginning of Acts. The people gathered there are from all over the region from different countries and places speaking many different languages. And so the gift that the Holy Spirit descended upon them in order to share the good news of Jesus Christ? The ability to surpass this barrier of language.
The gift of linguistic hospitality. They exclaimed, aren’t all those men up there from Galilee? Basically, they should know Hebrew, Aramaic, and some Greek from their colonizers… but how is it that they can speak all of these different languages? That we can hear them speaking in our own native tongues?
You wanna know why? Because in order to share the good news, the gift of mercy and grace, of love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, we have to be able to cross these linguistic boundaries put in front of us with this kind of hospitality.
This is a pretty cool super power, if one could call it that. I would choose this super power over all of them, invisibility, over flying, over super strength. The ability to just be able to speak and understand a different language. I would want to be able to speak and understand all other languages.
But the thing of this super power that the Holy Spirit has descended upon them is that it is not just a fun super power. It is a tool of evangelism.
See they are tasked with spreading the word about Jesus far and wide, just like we are. But they can’t do that very well if they can’t speak to others who speak different languages. So of course, Good took care of this. To make Jesus Christ more accessible.
We each may not be able to instantaneously speak in different languages, but we each have our own hospitality gift of how to make Jesus Christ more accessible. The gifts of service, leadership, of welcoming, and invitation.
And for some it might be closer to this that you think. How about explaining churchy words? Especially when every denomination seems to have their own churchy words. Like how about that in the Episcopal and Anglican church world, today is called “Whitsunday”. That is new to me. I had only ever heard that word as a name for a group of Islands, the Whitsunday Islands in northwestern Australia that I sailed around sleeping on the deck and playing with fish on the Great Barrier Reef.
I am a graduate school educated Lutheran Pastor and no one ever taught me that word. And so, I assume, there are many others for whom this is a strange language. So is Pentecost for that matter!
Sometimes in our churchy world we get so caught up in ourselves that we forget that others do not speak our language. That someone walking through the doors might have no idea what a narthex is, a bulletin, know when to stand, to sit, to cross themselves, know how to find their way around the Book of Common Prayer or the ELW.
For those of you that don’t know this yet, I started a new podcast this year that I put out each Tuesday that is designed to cross this border. To take the Bible and break down the churchy words, to break down the barriers for those that don’t have the tools to read the Bible with exegesis. Which is a fancy church word for looking at the Bible text in its original context of who is saying it, who are they saying it to, what is going on at the time and place this is said, who wrote it down, when, in what language, what are linguistic differences between our languages, and more.
It’s making the goods news accessible. This is my gift of hospitality that I attempt to share. Bringing the Bible to people outside the churchy world, bringing the Bible to young folks who maybe haven’t learned all this historical information, bringing the Bible to everyday folks hungry and longing for the good news of God’s grace and love and needing someone to cross the linguistic divide.
It might not be another language, but it is linguistic hospitality.
When I read the story of Pentecost and this linguistic hospitality from Acts, I wonder for us today, what are ways that we can make the Gospel message more accessible? What are ways that each and every one of us is gifted to cross this divide? Because we are. The Holy Spirit has bestowed on each of us a gift of sharing the Good News. Maybe it's through service, maybe it's through breaking down churchy words, maybe it's through food, maybe it's through technology, or maybe it’s through crossing cultural divides.
What are your ways of making the Gospel message more accessible? Each of us are equipped with tools to share the good news of grace and mercy far and wide. Now let’s go do it! Amen.