Plain English

POSTED ON 2008-10-07
  by Bryan Abbott, with Jackie Fallis

Getting language practice proved to be a bit more challenging than a missionary planned.

Missionary aviation mechanic Bryan Abbott, serving with his wife Melissa, wrote, "We needed a shelf made for our entry way and I needed some 'live language' practice, so I decided to 'pass two islands with one oar-stroke.'"

"I drew up some plans complete with measurements … and a picture. I figured it would take me 30 minutes to hand [the carpenter] the plans and 'discuss' the payment and delivery options using the few local terms I had learned from our tutor earlier that day."

"I arrived at the woodshop ready to do business. An older man met me and immediately tried to sell me a table. I politely looked it over and exchanged the normal pleasantries with him. Then I asked if he could make something for me."

The man looked puzzled, so Bryan handed over the plans. Even after turning them this way and that, the man couldn't seem to figure out which way was up.

But Bryan wasn't discouraged. "Feeling positive I knew what I needed to tell him, I asked if he could build a rak helm, or hanging shelf."

"The next few moments turned into one and a half hours of very frustrating 'dueling monologues.' I'm not sure if the guy was asking me more specifics about the rak, or if he wanted to know how the wife and kids were doing or even if he was speaking in a totally different language, Bahasa Java, used by many of the older generation … .

"It really didn't matter. All I knew is that I suddenly started to recall a lot of Spanish words, yet couldn't remember any of the local language."

Finally Bryan managed to communicate what he wanted. But that wasn't the end of the fun.

"My crowning moment in the whole language excursion was when I asked for the price of the rak helm. The man quickly rattled off a series of numbers. I motioned for him to write it down so I could read it.

"As he showed me the price, I decided I would be 'smart' and use the one remaining local phrase I knew. I pointed to his pen and asked, 'Apa ini?' (What is this?) I was hoping to come home with at least one new word from the whole outing.

"The old man paused, held out the pen and very slowly and clearly enunciated 'Pen.'"

Please pray for patience for the Abbotts they interact with while learning the culture and language.

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