Increasingly in the UK, multi-ethinic churches are faced with a dilemma. Should everything be done in English, or should prayers and songs in another language be incorporated? It’s a challenge faced the world over, and we in the UK have much to learn from those who have wrestled with this very issue for years.
Ghana is a country with over 60 languages, and these languages are not expressed in well-defined, discrete areas of the country. Language communities overlap, people groups intermingle, and there is significant cultural and linguistic diversity in many churches. Ed Lauber, working with partner organisation GILBT* shares some ways the church in Ghana has embraced this challenge.
Singing hymns in two Ghanaian languages as the same time. This was at a business meeting conducted in English.
Figuring out how to be one, unified church while making sure that everyone hears the message in a language they fully understand is a challenge. There are many approaches, such as having more than one service each in a different language, then once a month having a unified service in a regional or national language. Some churches conduct services in two languages. But translating everything is time consuming plus it is difficult for listeners to stay focused when every other sentence is in a language they don’t understand. Others have church services in a regional or national language, and home Bible studies in local languages. There are no easy answers. But some ignore the issue altogether and do everything in a regional or official language. But that leaves those most disadvantaged in that language to fend for themselves. It is hard to imagine how a person can become a thriving Christian while understanding only a fraction of the Bible and the teaching and preaching in church. (Read whole post here)
English speakers have the hardest challenge of all. As the speakers of a dominant world language, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to be a minority language speaker, where we are not widely understood. Let’s not ignore the issue.
The Bible paints a picture of unity and diversity, of God reaching out to great and small, bringing us together as one Body. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 for the one lost sheep, and Revelation describes this:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7.9-10
That great shout will be in thousands of languages! What will the overhead projector look like for that worship service? Somehow I don’t think we’ll be needing words on a screen, and it’s just as well!
Nevertheless, the Wycliffe website has some helpful suggestions for churches here: Support Non-English Speakers.
* the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)