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What I Didn't Learn in the Dust

April 23, 2024

Kanyimbe Ker



I was born in a hot and dusty city called Tete, in Mozambique. I grew up there and in a nearby village called Dinthi, playing in the dirt, speaking a mix of Portuguese and Cinyungwe with local kids, and generally having the time of my life. While my parents (Wycliffe translators) were dealing with stress and scarcity and four kids, my siblings and I read good homeschool books, explored far and wide, and played every kind of wild or imaginary game with our African peers.


Ghosts of Apartheid


I did not think about “culture” and “language” much then, but later we moved to South Africa as I grew into my teens. There I started grappling with the legacy of apartheid and the stark racial inequalities. As I studied sociology and anthropology at the University of Cape Town, I began to engage with culture and language academically.


Then God took hold of my life, and I gradually developed a tremendous heart for the Gospel and missions. I realized that many white people in Cape Town saw no point in learning local African languages, as English was spoken in most public institutions, and that this was hindering racial reconciliation, since at the heart of South Africa’s racial issues were cultural issues. Apartheid effectively marginalized and suppressed African cultures and languages to build a country with Western language and culture (Afrikaans culture, and English culture). So, I began to seriously learn isiXhosa, and spend more time in economically poor, black areas of the city.


Power of Learning Language and Culture


It was these difficult experiences in Cape Town, more than my carefree existence as a child in Mozambique, that brought home to me how important language and culture are for Gospel work in every neighborhood and around the world. Working with CultureBound, then, feels like a natural continuation of my story. I want to learn to communicate to the unconvinced why language and culture learning is so crucial for the church today. And I want to support those Gospel workers who are building cross-cultural relationships at home and worldwide.

The biggest challenge I wrestle with is, “How do we show churches, funders, and normal Christians like you and me why culture and language matter so much?” It’s hard to communicate in words that which is learned through experience.


In a nutshell, I think language and culture learning is…


Good for communicating the Gospel.


Different cultural groups and sub-cultures have different values and interpretations of reality. Because of this, cultures have different “heart questions” - the deep questions and issues they think are most relevant to living a good life. When we do culture and language learning, we can discover what these heart questions are and apply the Gospel to them in specific ways. Failure to do this leads to misunderstanding and a response like “Jesus might be good for you but not relevant to us.”

 

When we do culture and language learning, we can discover what these heart questions are and apply the Gospel to them in specific ways. Failure to do this leads to misunderstanding and a response like “Jesus might be good for you but not relevant to us.”

Good for serving for the sake of the Gospel.


If we think we know everything and have all the solutions, our assumptions will cause tensions and problems. Language and culture learning helps to humble us as we have to become like a child in the new culture, learning everything afresh. We need to learn how to ask for basic things, how to name the normal things of life, how to act properly, and how to ask the right questions. We need to learn what God is already doing in their culture and how the Gospel applies to that.

 

Christ’s way of learning.


As a boy, Jesus learned the Jewish language and culture around him. Even though he was fully God, he condescended to take on human flesh and grew up and learned like any other human being (Luke 2:52). He came to save and to speak truth to the Jewish people as their messiah. Jesus learned to relate to people in his culture and language. Learning is not merely for gaining knowledge but a way of building relationship and life. We must imitate Christ by learning to relate to others in their language and culture. This is the core of Christian serving.






Kanyimbe Ker is a fundraising consultant who works with CultureBound and the Center For African Immigrants and Refugees Organization (CAIRO). He is focused on building partnerships with foundations and donors, and is passionate about culture, missions, and nonprofit strategy.




 

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