I don’t speak Afrikaans. Some of you might need a little history lesson of South Africa in order for that statement to make sense. Well, very briefly, South Africa was first colonized by the Dutch, and then by the British. When they decided to have a fight about who was gonna be the boss, the British won. (This was called the Anglo-Boer War — ‘Boer’ means Farmer.) This might be seen by some as similar to the American fight for Independence, except that the British won. Anyway, many years and many stories later, there are an incredible number of languages and cultures swirling and twirling together in the melting pot of South Africa — including 11 official languages, one of which is Afrikaans. This language has come from Dutch, and while Afrikaans and Dutch are still fairly mutually intelligible, Afrikaans is sort of like old Dutch with some other influences mixed in, which tends to happen, due to what I think is termed language fossilization away from the homeland, and a number of other interesting things that you might study in linguistic classes.
All that to say, most people in the area where we’re staying at the moment speak English and Afrikaans, but Afrikaans is more often the default language. A lovely and amusing thing has been occurring since my arrival. Since I don’t have ‘American’ stamped on my forehead, a local might assume I also am South African, (usually until I open my mouth) and will therefore also assume that I too can speak Afrikaans. Â People often come up to me in the grocery store, and I can basically ascertain from their demeanour that they’re commenting on how cute Asher is. Â I just kind of smile and nod unless I think I am missing something, and then have to open my mouth with a big southern, “Sorry…I don’t speak Afrikaans.” At which point they politely change to English and then I have a clue of what’s happening.
This week, for my birthday Mark and I did a bit of browsing at the mall, among other things, and I found a skirt I thought I should try on in the dressing room. I came out for a moment to ask Mark’s opinion, and while I was still standing in the doorway, a lady came up in a huff, with lots and lots of garments in her arms, and speaking Afrikaans she proceeded to go on and on and on to me. I, obviously, had NOT A CLUE what the heck she was talking about. Â She just went on and on – I am not exaggerating – and wanting to be polite, I didn’t interrupt. When she finally finished, mind you I’m still standing there in an unpurchased skirt and my socks, I just looked at her with a big bewildered face and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Afrikaans.”
She then switched immediately to English and began again, perhaps in a bigger huff, “I’ve got all these garments and there are too many of them for me to go into the dressing room with, but I want to try all of them on and so I am going to need some help but I can’t go into the dressing room with all of them, so what should I do and …” And it went on for a little bit longer until I finally realized what was actually happening, and, finally, I correctly responded to the situation:
“Ugh…I don’t work here either.”
Man it’s great when we finally have a clue of what’s going on!Â As I’m enjoying the beautiful surroundings here in South Africa, I am thankful that God demonstrated His love for us in such a way that it would cross all cultural and language boundaries. And because His love for us is evident in what He has created, we are without excuse to recognise Him as Creator, and to love and follow Him. I don’t need to speak Hebrew and Greek to know that God loves me — the translation of that love into action took place in the life of Jesus, and on the cross at Calvary.
Praise the Lord we have the opportunity to translate that message of Good News to everyone we meet, so that they too can make Jesus their Lord, live for Him, and spend eternity worshiping Him in His glory. I want the life I live for God to need no translation – for it to be clear that I’m His and He is mine, for the fruit of my words and actions to make that readily apparent. If those of us who claim to be believers could all live that way (not saying I do, but that I want to!) – what a message we’d be sharing, to everyone, everywhere.
God loves you! How do you translate that?