Emotion and the Power of Language

This week, Jo and I entered a restaurant, showed evidence of our full vaccination status, sat down, removed our masks, and started a visit with two long-time friends. Was it ever good to be with them again, enjoying a meal together for the first time in several years! They were old friends from our Bible school years who had been missionaries in Africa during the time we were Bible translators in Brazil.

My mind suddenly flashed back to a similar mealtime back on the mission centre in Brazil. I was relaxed and comfortable in the cool, breezy dining room, looking forward to some excellent food and stimulating conversation. Jo and I sat with our hosts, a German family who, like us, were serving as missionaries in Brazil. As we chatted, our host leaned back in his chair and called down the hall to his teenage daughter filling another serving dish in the kitchen.

Elsa! Wir sind bereit. Kommt schnell! “Elsa! We’re ready. Come quickly!”

The loud voice, the urgent tone and the last word, schnell, sent a shock of fear through my system while the icy hand of panic clenched my insides.

Terror traveled eight thousand kilometres and thirty-five years to jab fear into my heart once again.

I was six years old, walking home from school with a classmate in Nazi occupied Hilversum, Holland. As we took a shortcut past a warehouse, we noticed the door was partly open, so naturally, we peered in. Suddenly a German soldier waving his machine gun ran out of a guard shack behind us shouting, Achtung! Verschwinden Sie! Schnell! “Hey! Get away! Quickly!” I had heard those shouted orders before, sometimes followed by shots . . . and screams.

So long ago. So far away. So many changes. I was now an adult, a husband, a father, a missionary in another continent. And this German missionary was no occupying enemy soldier—he was my friend, a missionary colleague, and a brother in Jesus.

What then triggered this vivid, fear-laden memory? Language. A specific language. The same language which had impacted me emotionally that day as a child. If, instead of shouting “Schnell!” in German, he had called in English, “Quickly!” or in Portuguese, “Rapido!” I would not have flinched in fear and panic.

Language has the power to evoke emotion in the hearer. And we depend on emotion along with logic to make decisions. Way back at the tower of Babel, when God invented languages, He put that power to stir emotion into languages. No wonder, therefore, that God uses languages to communicate His passion-filled Love letter to the world’s people.

At last count there are nearly 7400 languages in the world with a population of 7.0 billion people. He has called thousands of His servants to translate His Word into many of these languages. Over 700 languages have a complete Bible, nearly 1600 have at least the New Testament, and 1200 have some portions translated into them. These three groups total about 3500 languages.

Right now, translation work is progressing in over 800 languages, serving nearly 68 million people. Praise God for what He has done through His people!

Putting aside languages spoken be groups who are fully bilingual, another 145 million people speaking nearly 1900 languages still continue to wait for translation work to begin. Two thousand translation teams are needed. They, in turn, need many thousands of prayer partners and financial ministry partners.

Churches around the world need to listen to the urgency in God’s voice as he calls down our halls, for workers and ministry partners to come and get busy. Quickly! Rapido! Rapidement! Szybko! Snabbt! Raskt! Gyorsan! Brzo! Awjarê! Schnell!