The gospel in my heart language

heart languageNelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Today, a growing number of people understand and speak more than one language. Crossing borders, studying, living and working in cosmopolitan cities, people encounter and learn different tongues. In sharing the gospel with such people, does it make any difference if we use their mother tongue or a new language they picked up?

Siriporn* was given a GoodSeed resource in English and then later a copy of By This Name in Thai, his native language. He said, “I read it in English and I understood. But when I read it in Thai, it was as if the gospel message grabbed me around the throat and didn’t let me go.” He demonstrated by putting both hands around his neck. The impact of the good news was far greater in his native language.

As a businessman, it was important for Siriporn to learn and understand English. He used it daily in his business dealings. It was a language he was reasonably comfortable with. However, English is not the language he thinks and feels in. It is not the language he grew up with—the language his mother sang to him as an infant. Thai is his heart language. Thai is his mother tongue.

Spiritual concepts and vocabulary are extremely difficult to convey and explain in any language, and hearing or reading it in a second language can hinder comprehension. For example, the concepts of justification, propitiation, or grace are not easy to explain in English, let alone to someone whose heart language is not English. While it is definitely possible for a person to come to faith in Christ through a second language, there is simply no substitute for the power of hearing or reading the gospel clearly in one’s own heart language.

Recently, a story came to us from a mother in the Faroe Islands. She had been using the English version of The Lamb to teach the message of the gospel to her young daughter. While the mother understood and spoke English, she struggled with interpreting the English text into Faroese for her daughter in a way that the child could understand. However, when she got hold of the Faroese edition of the book, this completely changed. The mother was thrilled to watch understanding dawn on her daughter. The little girl began making personal connections with the gospel story. In a very real way, the good news had come to life now that it was in the little girl’s heart language.

It is for these reasons that one of the goals of GoodSeed is to make a clear gospel presentation available in as many languages as possible. This is why our global translation and distribution team exists. Unlike English, with its myriad options of Christian literature, from fiction to theological texts, most other language groups have very little beyond the Bible to choose from when it comes to strengthening one’s understanding of the gospel. Our translation department has developed a very detailed process to ensure that the gospel message in the target languages is as clear as our English editions. For this work, we depend heavily on partner ministries and believers who are native speakers.

Over the years, we have received hundreds of translation requests. Currently, there are several dozen translation projects underway with many more waiting for the right people to translate or enough funding. We have resources available online in 23 languages; additional language resources are only available in certain countries. Though each project takes years, the reward of hearing about people coming to faith in Jesus Christ through reading the gospel in their own heart language makes it all worthwhile. We thank the Lord and rejoice for each new translation that gets into the hands of those who want to learn the good news for themselves.

Please pray for our translation team—GoodSeed missionaries who act as coordinators and oversee these projects, the translators who work long hours in sometimes difficult and even dangerous circumstances, and for each individual involved in the checking, printing and distribution process. The Bible promises that people from every language will someday worship and praise God for his salvation. It is an awesome privilege to be one tiny part of the fulfillment of that promise.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

For a more in-depth and detailed look into GoodSeed’s translation process, read the blog post Connecting the dots.

(* All names changed as per GoodSeed policy.)

Author: Scott Humphreys

Staff writer, Research Planning and Marketing at the GoodSeed USA Coeur d'Alene, ID office.