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Learning About Culture, Language and God

by Anne

Road in rural Thailand©eltpics, Flickr.

It all happened very fast! I had approached Wycliffe Singapore to find out more about their ministries. After some discussion, it was suggested that I could attend Camp Wycliffe, an experiential camp in Thailand, then spend three months at a language centre in Thailand to learn some Thai and observe language work in a minority group. I didn’t know what else might be in store for me, but said “Yes!” anyway. In my time there, I was given opportunities to do so many things – helping with the moving of the centre, serving alongside a team from the US, completing a section of an anthropology write-up, helping with literacy materials and running errands. I also observed translation work and the audio recording of the Bible.

Moving, cleaning and culture

This was manual labour – loading and unloading, discarding, cleaning, arranging, and then more cleaning! We had to clean the furniture, and we had to clean the building’s interior a few times because it got dusty pretty quickly. It was interesting to observe different cultural viewpoints – what I had felt was unnecessary or inefficient, the Thai people saw as good teamwork. Yet through the inefficiency, the repetitive cleaning made me see how important it was to constantly be cleansing ourselves from within. If we allow ourselves to collect dust and accumulate dirt, it is so much more tiresome to clean. I found the cleaning really therapeutic after a while, and it reminded me that we need to allow God to constantly clean us, to reach into the deeper places where hidden dirt is, so that we can be a clean temple for God to reside in.

Short-term missions

I tagged along with a team from the US who had planned activities to train potential missionaries and observed them conduct debriefings to help team members make sense of their experiences. As I reflected on this, I realised that it was my very first mission trip, under a great leader and mentor, that had sown the seed in me to consider becoming a missionary. This is the value of sending out short-term mission teams, as long as the trips are properly executed.

Making flashcards
Language work

One of the tasks I was given was to investigate the spiritual worldview of the K group. I interviewed the mother-tongue translators (MTTs) to try to understand more about animism in their culture. It was very comforting to me to see the hope, joy and peace reflected in the eyes of the believers, and how they had been liberated from their fears. At the same time, it was also heartbreaking to know that many of them are still trapped in fear. As I tried to make sense of the stories that the people had believed in for generations, I realised that logic is not the same for everyone. I also came to realise that animism is not just in the remote villages; we city-dwellers also place our hope in material things like good grades, a comfortable salary, or even good weather. It was a good reminder to me that our hope is in the Lord, who is the same today, yesterday and forever, even when things don’t go our way.

I expected that producing literacy materials (flashcards) wouldn’t be too hard – after all, it was just finding pictures and copying vocabulary from their database, right? But it was difficult! The images easily available online were from the cultures of ‘angmoh’ (western) or majority people groups (eg. Chinese), and it was tough to find pictures that ethnic minorities could relate to. Fortunately, we did manage to find a database which had suitable images. This brought home to me how unseen and unknown minority groups are – they are regarded as nobodies. Yet God knows them, and through the work with Wycliffe, they know that they are valued. And when the MTTs saw the completed materials, their joyful expressions were priceless!

Cleaning the centre
Journeying on

This internship was part of my personal journey with God. Every person’s journey will be different even if they go on a short-term mission trip to the same place. That’s the beauty of it – the outcome will not be the same, except that God will exceed your expectations. I went into the internship hoping to find some answers to help me figure out my next step in life, and while I am clearer that God has placed a love for minority peoples in my heart, God has done something even more intricate. He has shown me that He will be with me if I go; He has shown me that I don’t need to worry about my abilities; He has shown me what trusting in Him means. All I need to do is take the next step.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. (Ephesians 3:2)

Anne was inspired to study Linguistics after attending a course on missions. She decided on this short internship to see what language work in the field is really like. She continues to seek God’s guidance as to where He will lead her in the future.

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