"Basuba ack jamm ..."
In the dusty streets of a small Senegalese village, a woman held my hands in hers as she patiently repeated a phrase for me to learn. Today, she was the teacher and I was the student.
"Basuba ack jamm," she coaxed.
"Basuba ack jamm," I echoed back.
As I repeated the phrase, I wondered if my attempt to pronounce the words sounded strange to her. Especially since my thick southern accent tinged each word. I looked into her eyes and realized my accent didn't matter. Her satisfied grin indicated that she was happy with my progress. For her, this was more than a language lesson -- it was a gift. She had given me something special and I appreciated her willingness to give.
I considered the depth of the words she taught me. Translated from wolof to english, "basuba ack jamm" means "until tomorrow with peace". In my hometown we typically say something like, "goodbye" or "see ya later, have a great day." In this language they say, "Until I see you again, be at peace."
Before I arrived in Africa I received language instruction. In all honesty, I learned just enough to say hello. You may think this isn't much, but for me it was a lot. Saying hello to people in Senegal takes time. It's like playing language ping-pong. You, and the person you greet, speak approximately ten different phrases to each other until you have thoroughly said hello. It's comical when you lose your place in the greeting script. Many times I had to start over in order to say the greeting correctly.
Yes, it's true -- my attempts to say hello in wolof was the comic relief of our mission trip. A common phrase in greeting was "ana waa kër gi," which means "how is your family?" After a long day in the village, I learned I was saying the phrase incorrectly. Instead of asking people "how is your family?" I asked them, "how is your shade." No wonder I received strange looks from everyone I encountered. See what I mean about comic relief?
As I consider the language barrier I am reminded of Genesis 11:1-9. In this passage we read that the whole world had one language and common speech. The people misused their common speech and tried to seek God in a worldly way. They determined together that they could build a tower that reached heaven. Most of us know the outcome of this story -- God confused their language and scattered them over all the earth.
Truthfully, there is no difference between then and now. During the time of Genesis 11, the people tried to reach God through their own power. But God, in His wisdom, showed them that they could not. Today, all over the world, many people still try to reach God in their own power. Many people follow false gods and fall victim to deception. This is just as futile as trying to build the Tower of Babel.
For me, as I shared the love of Jesus in Senegal, there was a definite language barrier. While there, I prayed that my inability to speak the native language would not hinder God's work through me. The Lord helped me to see that while I may not know much of the Wolof language -- I do know the language of God -- the universal language of love.
Prayer: Father, no matter where we are, please help us communicate you truth effectively. Please speak your language of love through us. Help us to communicate in a way that draws others to you. Please shatter the communication barriers that hinder our way and give each of us ears that hear.
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