One of my favorite components of international mission trips is attending a worship service in the native language. In Montreal this means Chris Tomlin will be sung in French. Hearing familiar songs in French makes one realize that English isn't pretty. French makes everyone sound as if they are asking you to marry them. I guess that's why they call it a romance language.
Our youth pastor Caleb is an expert in the art of the schmooze. There is another word for it that involves a male bovine, but preachers don't use those sorts of words. But even those words sound pretty in French. In English, Caleb can talk his way out of anything. He can make the most angry people love him. He has somehow translated this ability into French. A prime example would be the lady in the grocery store. Several of us were clogging up the cereal aisle trying to pick something with less fiber since the 7 of us are sharing one bathroom. A French speaking lady came up the aisle and offered the French version of "excuse me" or "move it", I could not tell the difference. Either way, it sounded like she loved us. Caleb simply replied with a French sound, not a French word, but a French sound. He has translated Tim Allen's grunts into French. He starts everything low and ends it in falsetto. Caleb grunted to her, "wwwwhhhiiiiiiiiii." The sound he made would be good for a roller coaster or a French lady looking for oatmeal. She moved along. We had a good laugh.
Singing familiar worship songs with my brothers and sisters in Christ here in Montreal is a very Pentecost sort of experience. It reminds me of the power of the Gospel as well as the scope of the Acts 1:8 mission. I didn't understand a single word of the sermon, but when a preacher is passionate for Christ the anointing of the Spirit needs no translation. I did not know what he said, but I knew what Pastor Jacques was saying.
Attending a worship service in a foreign tongue also serves another redemptive purpose. It is a reminder that the lost find what I do on Sundays strange and unfamiliar. What becomes rote and routine to us on a Sunday morning is cultural, not necessarily biblical. The Sunday morning experience is an example of contextualization not interpretation. Having a Sunday morning worship service says very little to the lost. For the lost the typical Baptist semi-contemporary experience is like trying to explain the importance of air to a fish.
For those of us who have been followers of Christ for quite some time, we take it for granted that the Gospel is not strange. We have forgotten that it is. As refreshing an experience a French Sunday was for me, repeated attempts at it would prove frustrating and eventually boring. To help me make a connection someone would need to spend countless hours investing in me to help me understand French. Going on a mission trip and suddenly becoming illiterate is a reminder of how Acts 1:8 works and how Pentecost continues. For the lost, Sunday mornings are nothing but Christian phonics, religious tones, and worship sounds. For the Gospel to connect, we must make a personal investment in the lost and begin showing them vivid interpretations of Jesus.