by Christopher Harbin

Immigrant Confusion
Christopher B. Harbin
Acts 2:1-21

Languages are something we don't generally understand as adults, whether our own languages, foreign languages, or non-native speakers of our own languages. We are somewhat comfortable with little children learning a language, but we don't really know what to do with an adult who does not share our linguistic background. When it comes to secondary language speaking, we get even more confused, for we using a known language according to an alternate set of rules that may cause a great deal of confusion. How do we get beyond the confusion of multi-lingual communication in order to focus on understanding one another?

When my wife and I went to Mexico as missionaries for a two-year stint, I went with some good background in Spanish. She only had about a ten-word vocabulary with which to work. Working with children in a backyard Bible club setting, they did not know what to do with this grown woman who did not know how to talk. On the other hand, my Sunday school class did not know how to correct me as an educated adult with a master's degree who was mixing up the words for grease and grace. The bulk of my communication was solid, but the mistakes I made left everyone confused and uncertain how to proceed.

Language confusion is common for immigrants. They do not expect citizens of a developed country to give much value to learning the language of a developing nation. My red hair and fair complexion have often kept people from understanding my use of their language, simply based on expectations that I could not be speaking a language they could understand. On the other hand, I have watched immigrants struggle to use a new language while the resident population could not get beyond issues of accent, syntax, and issues of grammar.

Jerusalem was used to foreigners. Jews from all over the Roman Empire would descend upon Jerusalem in pilgrimage during the period between Passover and Pentecost. Historians record ...

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