Beyond Babel: Learning Mandarin Part IV

I froze. Why would he ask me first, of all people? I mean, my Chinese was getting conversational, but I was nowhere near confident enough to be put on the spot like this in the middle of a Bible study.

I fidgeted in my chair as my mouth began to dry. “I didn’t know I’d have to discuss this today,” I managed to get out in Mandarin thinking my face was certainly turning red in embarrassment.

“Oh, ok,” responded the pastor with a hint of confusion. “Jiang YunTian, what do you think?”

I was relieved that the spotlight had shifted from me, but also left wondering why the pastor would ask me an open ended question like that on my first visit to this Bible study. He had spoken to me at church before and knew my level of Chinese was still quite lacking. Why would he think my Mandarin could handle the question? Didn’t he realize that I was just hoping to come in and listen to their discussion to practice listening for Bible terms? Did he not have the forethought to know how embarrassed I would feel being put on the spot like that in front of my believing friends?

I wished I could answer the question. I yearned to be able to have free discussion with Chinese believers about the Bible. But after the blow to my pride I had just experienced, it seemed like me putting myself out there and coming to a small group Bible study was a bad idea.

Myriad are the instances like this that I could use to tell about my struggle to learn Mandarin. Stories from in church and out of church. With friends and with strangers. Whether in the supermarket or at the bank, I was constantly either making embarrassing mistakes or being left to give blank stares that communicated I didn’t understand.

But, through it all, the Lord taught me much about myself and about Him. He taught me what it means to humble yourself to become like someone else. I was often faced with minor humiliation, as in the story above, as a result of wanting to adapt to Chinese life. But, that is nothing compared to what Christ endured becoming a man and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

As one can see, my first forays into national churches in China weren’t easy. There was much to struggle through, both in regards to language and culture. But the Lord was continuing to bless and getting my Mandarin skills ready to preach.

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