Just before the 2016 election, I picked up three Chinese students and their mom from an evening of Christmas shopping. Sometimes my riders want to talk; sometimes their nose is glued to their screen as if they’d licked an icy flagpole. On this ride, even if I wanted to talk with my passengers I would have been at a loss. Their English was just deep enough to say hello, and they quickly jumped into a conversation in their native tongue.
In the quiet of the cold winter evening ride, I listened to passionate words I didn’t understand, until I heard one I recognized. “blah, blah, Chinese blah . . . Obama . . . blah, blah.” The first time our 44th president’s name went by, I almost missed it. But over and over, in the comfortable darkness of my Mazda’s front seat, I heard “Obama.”
Maybe a Chinese word exists that sounds a lot like those three syllables. I’m not sure, and jumping into a conversation to satisfy my curiosity wouldn’t have been culturally polite. So eyes forward, watching the snowy road I listened and wondered if I would catch another English word or two.
Fifteen minutes later I dropped off the last of the group, and their conversation left me wondering about my own culturally limited conversations.
As a Christ-follower, my tribe has their own dialect and sets of insider words. I tend to bristle at much of what is on “Christian TV” stations, because it seems the performers have an even more culturally myopic, insider vocabulary. Jesus was so different from the rest of the religious class around him that little children were happy to play in the folds of his robe. He was invited to weddings and banquets of the religious class and the common man alike.
Back on the road, I wondered what conversations with members of my Christian tribe sounds like to outsiders and unbelievers. I listened to my Chinese passengers’ passionate conversation, “blah, blah, Chinese blah . . . Obama . . . blah, blah,” and was no wiser to their lives, insights or beliefs. Do non-believers and unchurched hear from me, “blah, blah, blah . . . faith . . . blah, blah . . . love . . . blahblah . . . just believe” when I’m talking?
Jesus called his followers to change the world. How can we complete our mission if those who need Him most don’t understand what we’re saying?