Ryan and Elna Mitchell
“And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech”… Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth…” Genesis 11:6-9
After a few weeks of language learning, I still need to admit ‘Mi no save gut Tok Pisin’ (I do not know Tok Pisin well). But we are learning! God has blessed us with the most patient lady as language helper – Maria repeats herself multiple times, and answers the same questions repeatedly without so much as a sigh! So we are pressing ahead.
We are now at a point where we are trying not to speak English at all anymore with Maria or other nationals. But that means double checking a lot that we’ve been understood correctly (with any important conversations we check in English). And a simple question like ‘What is the word for rich?’ becomes ‘What is the name that you give a man or woman who has a lot of money?’. Add to that a lot of pauses while we search for the right word or phrase, and conversations take a bit longer than usual.
Why this emphasis on learning Tok Pisin and then nDo? When we bring the gospel message to the nDo people, we want to make sure that we are communicating clearly. One of our kids received a fun sticker-puzzle for Christmas – the instructions on the back serves as a more humorous example of what we do NOT want to sound like…
Jokes aside, a lot depends on clear communication. We recently had a conversation with a gentleman who found after two years of serving in a community that he had inadvertently been teaching salvation by works – the word he was using for faith (as in, we are saved by FAITH alone), was actually the local word for ‘religion’. Our message is one with eternal impact – that is why!
Please read our team mate Zach Cann’s post on the importance of language learning to give you more insight. And when you think of us, pray that God would enable us to work diligently and acquire Tok Pisin now, and then also nDo when we move to Mawerero.
Funny things we’ve enjoyed during language learning…
- Tok Pisin is very literal. Some of my favorite words are ‘plantihan’ for a centipede (plenty hands), ‘hap san i kamap’ for East (side that the sun rises), and ‘mouse gras’ for beard (mouth grass). We can get quite far by just describing an object.
- My brain sometimes defaults to the tiny bit of Zulu I know when I have to say something on the fly. In speaking to other missionaries, this seems to be pretty common. Canadian missionaries mentioned to us how they sometimes use French by accident, and some of our American friends have used Tok Pisin when they tried speaking Spanish while or furlough.
- We get to interact with the people of Madang. Ryan has learned quite a bit about gardening from one of our guards. Although I have not cooked with Maria, she’s told me about the preparation of many local dishes. I think her favorite session with us, was when we used Pick ‘n Pay South African animal cards to practice describing animals – and listened to their sounds…
- The local market is a good place to talk to people. Maria and I lost Ryan twice during a recent market visit – once when he was greeting a sweet lady we had previously met, and then when he paused to buy small hard-boiled candy for the kids. Kids (and some adults!) stare at us, some follow us around as we browse. Everyone is eager to sell their food to us.
Please pray for us as we work to learn the language of this beautiful country.