I have always been fascinated by language. This is probably because I had an aunt who was a kindergarten teacher and turned me into a student of words from a young age. Every summer, she required us to read and write for at least ten minutes each a day, and I remember quickly falling in love equally with discovering worlds through reading and creating my own through writing. That love only deepened as I grew older and chose to study both English Literature and Spanish in university, devouring the way language both gives us power and shapes the way we perceive the world around us.
So when there was a segment of our CROSS training (pre-field training) at OMS headquarters about language acquisition, largely focused on emphasizing just how important it is to commit to language learning and really do our absolute best at being as fluent as possible, I did not need to be sold.
While this deep-seeded love of language has served me well in my first level of Hungarian language courses, I’ve realized that this zeal includes a serious danger: pride.
I have to check my motivations daily. I am not here in Hungary just to create a fun little schedule for myself and get a gold star in Hungarian lessons—which is unfortunately often my temptation as a former honors student and recovering perfectionist. I’m here to share God’s love with the Hungarian people, and speaking their language is a huge part of that. Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn, but I can’t be learning it just to add another notch on my language belt.
The population of Hungary is actually decreasing. When you combine that with the difficulty of the language and its “only three tenses” (but zillion word endings), the number of people who speak Hungarian is incredibly small. So when an American actually attempts to speak Hungarian, and more than just speak, but actually attempt some kind of fluency, it speaks volumes (language pun fully intended). I love these people enough to learn a language that really serves zero purpose outside of Hungarian borders. Hungarians know their language is a beast, so for me to go through the difficulty of learning it, to no advantage outside of my time here and now, tangibly demonstrates my love for them as people, worthy of hearing just how much God loves them in their mother tongue.
The upside down power of the Kingdom of God means I gain no huge earthly power in the ability to speak Hungarian, but I do gain the privilege of connection with people. I’m giving up my right to use this time to “do” something more quantifiable or even to learn another more popular language that could reach more people. Learning Hungarian is not just a task I need to do in order to get into ministry, it is a part of ministry.
I also think that in my humanity, I often limit God. Without even thinking about it, I slip into defining ministry incredibly narrowly. I fool myself into thinking that “ministry” is done only when I’m actively thinking about it or when I’m pursuing goals I’ve set out for myself, when in reality everything I do as a Christian should be ministry. When I look at it with this perspective, I have the opportunity to minister to all of the people in my language class that I spend so many hours with each week. Many of them have been burned by the church and its followers, and my new prayer is that my words and actions would point them to Christ. I also have the opportunity to minister to Daniel as we study together and encourage each other in this difficult process. In the same way, I can both minister to and be ministered to by the rest of the team as we all struggle with this language and the way it humbles and grows each of us.
– By Amanda Buck, OMS Hungary Team Member