In August 2010, four young adults participated a mission trip to Romania to work at a summer camp as part of Lehigh Presbytery’s ongoing partnership with the Hungarian Reformed Church in Romania. Read all of their entries.
Of the many things that are different and yet the same for us is our need for language, to communicate. Many of the people here in Kenya, in Nyeri, speak two or more languages, and I’m grateful that one of those is English, because we don’t make the same effort in our country. I know that a number of us have tried to learn a few words of Kikuyu or Swahili. You generously host us, and invite us to tell you if there is anything we need, and we celebrate a relationship that allows us to say what we need.
But words have their limits, even the words of the Gospel which give life and change the world, even these words can only go so far.
We say the Lord’s Prayer together, but you say “trespasses,” we say “debts,” and others still, “sins.” We don’t always understand each other because our use of language is different. When I preached on Sunday I tried to think ahead, which words will make sense here, and which ones won’t. My interpreter was very kind when it was clear I did not think on that enough!
Sometimes we can understand our words quite well, but in the loud noise of the children of Tumaini joyfully sharing a meal, we may not be able to hear each other across the table, and in the loud noise of the world, which is often not joyful, it would be easy not to hear across the world.
But in the Scripture passage that I chose, the passage that chose me, we learn that our words can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, stretch far beyond our knowing.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
And the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world
~ Psalm 19:1-4a
By the grace of God, each one of us can and does speak volumes to the ends of the earth, not with words, not with mouths, but with hearts.
Some students are shy, they don’t say much, but their smile, their eyes, say it all, the love known, the love to share. We have shaken many a hand, embraced and been embraced. Some are well-meaning and polite, others life-changing and passionate.
I have known that relationship without words, in a room with 600 when you could hear a pin drop, in a smaller gathering like this, when after days of prayer you could hear the heartbeat of another. We have so much to share with each other, and our words can carry us only part of the way. As the great teacher of the church, Meister Eckhart taught, “If the only prayer we say is “thank you,”—“asante,”— that is enough.
All glory be to God. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Shussett
Teaching Presbyter of the Lehigh Presbytery
Adapted from his reflections on his experiences during a church partnership visit to Kenya.