The Language Barrier Can Be a Good Thing


by Paul Young

In Fond Blanc our most common obstacle is the language barrier. The children speak Kreyòl, some of the adults also speak French, and of course the missionaries all speak English. Alison has learned enough Kreyòl to communicate well with the children, but that is because she has been immersed in the language for well over a year now. We also have some wonderfully dedicated translators, but in the day-to-day of things it seems a lot still gets lost in translation.

If we are just making small talk with one another we manage pretty well, but trying to oversee and operate an orphanage in another language…well, you can imagine. And add to that the different cultural reactions when things go awry, and we can get caught in the weeds pretty quickly.

I was reminded of these challenges recently while re-reading the biblical story of the tower of Babel. That story in Genesis 11 reveals a lot about the nature of man and his striving to improve the world. As plans for the tower progress, the Lord God comes among men – unnoticed. They are busy carrying out their grand plans, but he introduces the language barrier to confound their efforts. In Babel, men were trying to do things out of their own strength and for their own ambitions. I think God wanted them to find their real function in Him instead. It made me think of Fond Blanc.

I cannot help but wonder if there isn’t a corollary here to the tower of Babel. Is the work in Fond Blanc always connected to God’s desire that I place my full trust and reliance on Him? Could confusions due to language and culture be the Lord’s way of reminding me of my limitations? Might my efforts here be more fruitful (and more fun) if I acted more like a servant and less like a boss?

I confess there are times when I have found myself fretting over Fond Blanc without realizing that I may have become too absorbed in my own plans, ideas, strengths and capability. Yes, we have a grand vision for serving Fond Blanc and the orphans, but far too often we assert our own control and rely on our own resourcefulness as we work toward that vision.

No one ever said helping Haitian orphans was going to be easy, and language and culture challenges just go with the job. For me this is all about obeying a call to serve, and I never intended to try to “do it my way”. Nevertheless, it is fascinating (and humbling) to see how often I manage to revert back to my base human nature that says: “I’m in charge”, or “I can do this.” Here I am attempting to live a life that testifies to the power and providence of God, and yet there I go again, taking over and placing my trust in myself time after time! Ouch! Thankfully, we serve a patient and forgiving God.

At this time of year the Fond Blanc Foundation is engaged in a lot of debriefing, assessing, budgeting and planning for the orphan community and the year ahead. At moments like these it is good for us to pause to remember why we are here, whose call we answered to get here in the first place and who is really in charge of the outcome. There are exciting days ahead if we can just keep our trust where it belongs: in the Lord who called us to serve.

In prayer, I continue to find confirmation that Fond Blanc is where I am supposed to be. In reflection, I admit that my “best” self has not always been showing up for that job. In humility, I am resolved to stay focused on the “prize” of Philippians 3:14, and to press deeper into dependence upon the providence of God who is the real author and finisher of all that is good at the orphanage.

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