I am conversationally fluent in Spanish, but under the right circumstances, speaking Spanish can be scary for me.
It usually starts when I strike up a conversation with someone like my neighbor Juan Carlos who has a heavy El Salvadorean accent. Everything is fine as long as I’m doing the talking. But when Juan Carlos opens his mouth, I often struggle to follow him, so I start scrambling for verbal clues. And all the while, I’m panicking a little.
What if he says something that’s supposed to be funny, and I don’t laugh?
What if he asks an either/or question, and I respond with a “yes”?
It’s nerve-wracking and exhausting sometimes, even with my Spanish-speaking ability. It also helps me understand why so many people who aren’t Christians get uncomfortable when believers start talking about their faith.
Non-Christians aren’t fluent in Christianese. They probably weren’t raised by fluent speakers, nor have they had the chance to learn Christianese by immersion. So when someone like me tries to talk about faith with them, the polite unbeliever often tries to keep it short. Or he might engage in conversation the best he can, using the few Christianese words or phrases he knows. All the while, he’s just wishing the Christian would change the topic and speak in a language they both can understand.
It’s tough, because sharing the Gospel isn’t an option — we’ve been commanded to do that — so how do we translate our faith in a way that’s not so intimidating? We do what my neighbor Juan Carlos does.
Juan Carlos is good to me. He regularly helps me out with home repairs that are over my head (most of them are). He also helps me find affordable repairmen to come to the rescue when it’s a more complicated job. This has been remarkably helpful, and a friendship has formed as a result. Basically, Juan Carlos has been a good neighbor, and that more than makes up for the language barrier.
That’s why “love your neighbor as yourself” and “go into all the world and preach the Gospel” are inseparable commands (Mark 12:31, Mark 16:15). The “loving your neighbor” part acts as a powerful translator in a world that desperately needs to hear and believe the message of grace.