Tomorrow will be saying “goodbye” to our French exchange student who has been living with us for week.
We were a bit apprehensive before he arrived; “What are we going to do with a 16 year old French boy who doesn’t speak much English?” But we have enjoyed getting to know him through a combination of his limited English, my daughter’s limited French, hand motions, and even a little notepad because his writing is better than his speaking.
Relationships have deepened over laughter, food and football. But there is a depth of friendship that will never be attained because we don’t speak the same language. We’ve struggled to find out about his family, his favorite food or what subjects he enjoys in school. Relationships don’t go far on a vocabulary build after a few years of high school language classes.
In the debate among Christians between the proper place of words and deeds, the quote “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, is sometimes brought out against those who place a heavy emphasis on the role of preaching in the church. While I’m a “mercy guy” who has a high view of the church’s work in society, words are needed for God’s work to move forward for two reasons.
First, our care for others should be in the context of relationships as much as possible. Words are needed to build friendships with those we are serving. This is what separates the care given by the people of God from many (but not all) in the public social sector.
Secondly, the truth of what Jesus has done and is doing in the world contains concepts based on a historical reality which can only be communicated to others using language. God has revealed Himself in words (but not English words!) and we share this with others in the same way.
I am sad that our French student is leaving. I’m even more saddened that our relationship has been so limited. But I am so thankful that the German arriving tomorrow speaks English!!