The Benefits of a Language Barrier

©2015 PurePurpose.org
©2015 PurePurpose.org

I sat at Cafe Hillel, enjoying my hot cocoa and a good book. Most of the time, I was people-watching. It was my last day in Jerusalem, and I wanted to savor every moment. I had walked throughout many parts of the city. I watched people in their everyday routines. I noticed mannerisms. I caught parts of conversation.

I love hearing people speak in different languages. The foreign sounds have an intriguing beauty. Of course, the language barrier can be frustrating at times, too, but I have found there are many ways to bridge the gap, and the effort is always worth it. It creates a focused connection. It’s not really a benefit of the language barrier itself; the benefit is more about overcoming the language barrier.

As I sat at Cafe Hillel, I discovered a benefit of the language barrier. A man sitting nearby was speaking loudly on his phone. His tone was animated, but that’s not unusual in his native tongue. It didn’t assume anger, just passion and excitement. His voice was difficult to avoid, and I found myself lulled by the pattern of the conversation.

The moment was shattered when he broke into English. It took me a moment to readjust and realize what I was hearing. He was talking about someone, using extremely derogatory language. I often think people have mastered a language when they can accurately use humor, especially sarcasm. I don’t know how funny this man could have been, but he had certainly mastered a plethora of offensive words in English.

Thankfully, his tirade (at least, in English) lasted less than a minute. My peace was temporarily rattled. I could still hear him continue in his native tongue, but I didn’t find it nearly as soothing.

Maybe not fully understand everything and everyone around us is a blessing at times. Let’s bridge the gaps when we can but realize that sometimes understanding is not a must.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

When Falling Behind Isn’t

Our bus dropped us off, so we could walk the narrow street to the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, most walks in Israel involve an incline, and this one was a long one. As usual, our tour guide led the way, and I trailed behind to make sure if anyone got misplaced, I would be with her. As long as our guide could turn around and see me, he knew everyone was accounted for.

The steep inclines were rough at times, and anyone with any kind of breathing problem would have to slow down and pause. As the sidewalk got steeper on the way to the church, one woman slowed and took several breaks. Our group got ahead of us, but we could see where we were going. We followed a little girl with her mom and grandmother, and her cuteness distracted us from the effort of the walk. The little girl paused and turned around. We smiled and waved, and she smiled back at us. We didn’t share a spoken language, but a smile bridges all language barriers. The mom saw our smiles, and I imagine it was obvious we thought her daughter was beautiful. She smiled warmly at us. I motioned at my camera and asked permission to take a photo of the girl. The mom smiled and nodded and stepped aside, telling the little girl to smile (I assume).

@2014 PurePurpose.org
©2014 PurePurpose.org

Had we kept up with the group, we would have missed that beautiful smile. We would have missed the wordless exchange with the women. We got to have a brief, yet sweet exchange that bridged our cultures.

Sometimes, falling behind is worth it. We want to be at just the right place at just the right time. We don’t want to miss out on anything. However, the right place at the right time isn’t ours to decide. God knows best where we should be and why. People might say, “You should have been there! You missed out!” but we only missed what they experienced, not what we experienced because we weren’t with them at the time. We can’t experience it all. We can’t be at all places at all times.

I’m sure I didn’t hear every word our tour guide said throughout our journey through Israel. I was more often behind him than beside him. But it’s okay. God sent a smile through a little girl and her mom and grandmother to remind me to run, walk, pause, or stop in His timing. There is a time for everything, and that time is His to decide, not mine.