A common topic of conversation at language school were the gaffes and howlers made by past students. One missionary preached a message that Jesus became a carrot to save us sinful carrots—substituting ninjin(carrot) for ningen (human being). Another asked everyone to become his bride instead of asking them to read the tracts he was distributing, by mispronouncing the word yomi as yome. And then that missionary who prayed for a church member to mature sexually (sei-teki) instead of spiritually (rei-teki). And the stories didn’t end there.
Of course, these stories were very entertaining. But they were also rather scary. What sort of a fool am I going to make of myself? Or worse, what sort of heresy am I unintentionally going to teach?
But the Lord used this fear to teach me. Language school humbles everyone’s intellectual pride. It shows you need to trust the Lord to use you, when you can’t trust yourself to make sense or avoid dreadful errors. Obviously language and confidence improve and, even after 11 years, I trust I continue to improve. But I came to realise that I’ll never be beyond the possibility of making a terrible blunder.
I’m not aware that I’ve made any gaffes worse than telling my teacher that I wash my face every morning with cold miso (the fermented bean curd used for making soup, instead of mizu, water). And I once realised and corrected myself in time when preaching about worshipping coincidences (gūzen), instead of idols (gūzo).
But I still have difficulty making myself understood because I’ll use words with a slightly wrong nuance, or a slightly wrong verb form, or even building a sentence that is grammatically correct but somehow unnatural-sounding. I find this is especially the case when talking about the gospel—where the concepts and ideas are often unfamiliar to the people I’m speaking to.
This is an ongoing reminder from the Lord of my weakness. And yet, in his grace, he still uses me to bring his truth to the Japanese people he brings across my path. And the longer I’m here, the more I see it doesn’t depend on my wisdom, but his power and the work of his Spirit through me.
By Mike, an OMF missionary