Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Accent( 02/21/13)
By Claudia Thomason
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Their voices, mixed with wild hand gestures, seemed to indicate I was to run somewhere. Because their arms were swinging in all directions, it was difficult to determine where to run. This was neither baseball nor soccer. This was a made-up game played by children at the African school we were visiting that day.
“Kimbia, kimbia!” children shouted in Swahili. “Taharuki!” “Run, run!” they were saying. “Hurry!” It didn’t matter how excited they were to have me run, listening to them gave me no hint of what direction to go.
These children also knew (and were shouting) English, but it was what I called “high English” or the “Queen’s English.” Their accents were very difficult for me to understand. Even when speaking with my adult African friends in a quiet room one-on-one, I strained to understand them. Many times I had to settle for extracting a word here and a word there, mentally stringing together the logical meaning from what I heard. It was indeed English but with accents on syllables that didn’t match words I recognized.
Oddly, they laughingly told me, “You are the one with the accent. Speak slowly so we can understand, please.” This beautiful language is what added to the Africans’ overall gentility and grace. However, gentility and grace were not what I needed at that point in the game. I needed someone to shout out “go this way” so I could understand and respond.
As I thought about this event later, I realized I am often like those children shouting directions in a language that can’t be understood. How many times have I gotten excited about sharing God’s love with non-Christians who couldn’t grasp the words I was using? How many times have they looked at me questioningly as I pontificated in lofty language, using words not even remotely recognizable to them? In my zeal to share God’s love, were my words accentuated with unnecessary fluff, or perhaps were they a bit stuffy? No wonder some of them haven’t brought up the subject with me again. The thought that I may have done more harm than good saddened me.
“Forgive me, Lord, for trying to elevate your message through impressive speech.” I prayed. “Your message already resides at the pinnacle of perfection. How could I think polishing up the words explaining the Good News would improve the story?” I cringed at the thought of what I had been doing to my friends, who simply needed to hear a clear, understandable message. “Bring my thoughts back to earth where I use a language easily grasped by those needing to hear about you, without flowery accents on an already-perfect story.” Since that time, when I answer questions about my faith or how I am sure God actually knows someone’s name, I try to use simple words conveying clear thoughts.
On the field that day, I finally heard, “Annie, run toward the child in the right part of the field!” There it was—clear direction in a language I understood. Responding to the voice speaking words I recognized was easy. Unfortunately, it was too late, and I may have lost the game for my team. The children roared with laughter as I tripped over the child in right field, and we both landed on the ground laughing. I still don’t know the name of that game nor do I know how to play it. However, I learned a lesson from the children that day. It is a message about simplicity. Since then, I carry it with me on every playing field where God sends me.
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