After a brief but enjoyable week in Edmonton we have arrived at the Mission Training International (MTI) center and already a week of classes have passed. It is a beautiful part of the country here in Palmer Lake, Colorado, just north of Colorado Springs. The mountains and red rocks provide quite the background for our month of training at MTI.
So what are we learning? The main topics we will be covering are:
Tools for language learning
Week one has focused on the first two topics.
What makes mission work distinct from evangelism at home is the activity of leaving one’s home culture and entering into a foreign culture. Many of the questions which are asked in the field of missiology have to do with this act of crossing culture. What does it mean to follow Christ in this particular culture? How does one gain the trust of the people in order to communicate the gospel? How do we translate God’s word into a foreign language?
At MTI we have been reminded that not only do we bring the message (the gospel), but also the messenger (the missionary). Missionaries are to be faithful in preaching and teaching the pure gospel of Christ, but they also must live and act in a way that is faithful to God’s word and sensitive to the culture. To do this, we must recognize that we naturally evaluate another culture through our own, culturally-informed frame of reference. When a Frenchman stands at the toilet with the door open a Canadian will jump to the conclusion that this is inappropriate, or odd unless he understands that to the Frenchman, “a back turned is a door closed.”
Language learning. These words make many a missionary shudder. Others eagerly jump in with both feet. Whatever your feelings towards language learning, MTI seeks to give you a proper understanding of what language is and how we learn a language. Then they equip you with the tools necessary to begin on your language learning journey. Our first day here it was emphasized that language learning is like starting a new business. It is your business and you must put in the work. Dedication, motivation, planning, and risk-taking are all involved. MTI will give you a variety of tools to put in your language toolbox, but you must put the tools to work.
The approach to language learning which is taught at MTI can be summed up as “child-like learning accelerated at the adult level”. Children learn first by listening and observing, then speaking. Children listen to understand, not to learn a language. Children engage their whole body in learning, not only their minds. Children actively discover and pull in information about the language. Children babble at the beginning and learn correct pronunciation through repeated listening. But if we only learn like a child it will take too long to gain proficiency in a language. We must take the way a child learns and bring it to the adult level.
The last couple of days we have been putting this theory of language learning into practice. I’ll write more about that next time, but it has been both rewarding and exhausting. And if a Russian tells me that last night he took the boat to church, I just might understand him.