July 20, 2012

The Gospel and Language Barriers

by Wyatt Graham

tower_of_babelEvery believer is called to preach the Gospel (Matt 28:18–20), but sometimes language barriers can get in the way. I have been finding this obstacle more and more frequently. As immigration increases, many cities find themselves resembling a mini-United Nations meeting. As immigrant communities become more entrenched, there is less and less incentive to learn English. As immigrants can work, shop, and watch TV that is all in their native language, the possibility of witnessing in a cogent way becomes impossible.

Moreover, tracts in foreign languages are severely limited. Often they can come across as condescending, cartoon-illustrated, almost insulting attempts to communicate. By being so limited and simplistic, they can unintentionally give the impression that someone who speaks a foreign language is incapable of serious thought about God, sin, and the afterlife. So how can you give someone a gospel presentation that is more profound than a tract, but that reaches across the language barrier?

Sharing a gospel message that is modeled through the preaching of the Word can have a profound impact. I have found that when someone who did not grow up in the church gets saved, it is often the result of being exposed to the expository teaching of the Bible. This is not an English phenomenon; even in the book of Acts, the church grew through preaching the Word. But this obviously is only possible if a person understands the langauge they are hearing.

This is why Grace Church has developed a section on our website distribute evangelistic sermons to those that don’t speak English. You can download expositional Gospel messages in MP3 format and in 26 different languages from this website. Many of these messages were prepared by John MacArthur, but all of them were preached to congregations where the language is normal language of that church–so the Thai sermon was preached by a native Thai speaker to a Thai speaking congregation, and so forth. That means that these messages don’t have the rough edges that many translations do.

The way to use this evangelistic resource is to download the MP3s and then burn them to a CD. Or you can simply forward the link to others. If you know that certain languages are common in your area, it makes sense to carry around a few of these CDs so that you can share the life saving Gospel even when there is a language gap.

With the advent of globalization, no longer do foreign language speakers live somewhere “over there.” They are our neighbors and associates, and God is really bringing the nations to us. This is one tool to help us take advantage of this opportunity.

Wyatt Graham

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Wyatt is the Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition Canada. He also blogs at www.wyattgraham.com. Follow him at @wagraham. Follow TGCCanada at @CanadaTgc.
  • METOWNSEND Townsend

    Arent there enough English speaking among the lost.??.  That should keep any evangelist busy for years to come. 

    • Sadly, too many English speakers are lost. I’d love for all of them to receive the lord, just as Paul said that he wished all his fellow Jews would receive the Lord (Rom 10:1). But just like Paul, I realize that Gospel needs to all nations and peoples. This is why he not only proclaimed the gospel to jews but to gentiles also.

      Perhaps as a VISAed alien in the USA I see this differently than you. The Gospel can’t be stuck in enthic/language barriers.

      In any case, thanks for the timely reminder that English speakers need the lord just as much as non-English speakers.