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.