March 18, 2010

Language Lessons

2010 1509 page17 capISHA PEERED AT ME WITH WIDE, BLUE EYES THROUGH HIS STEEL-RIMMED glasses. Word had quickly spread among the children at the Moscow International Church that I had a small gift for each of them this Sabbath, and this 8-year-old boy was waiting to claim his. But I didn’t have the gifts with me as I spoke to someone in the sanctuary after the church service.
“Wait five minutes, Misha,” I said in Russian. “If you want, you can wait in the pastor’s office, and I’ll come find you.”
The other children were in the pastor’s office engaged in an after-church activity.
But Misha remained rooted on the spot, staring at me unblinkingly.
“Wait five minutes,” I said again. “Or you can wait in the pastor’s office, and I’ll come find you.”
Finally Misha spoke.
“Speak in Russian,” he said, shrugging his shoulders in helpless acknowledgment that he had no idea what I was saying.
2010 1509 page17With those three words Misha dealt a body blow to my pride. More than a decade in Russia and a small 8-year-old child couldn’t understand what I was saying. Now I’ll be the first to admit that my accent is strong, my vocabulary is limited, and I make many mistakes when I try to speak Russian. But despite all these obstacles, most people seem to understand me just fine.
A little while later, around potluck time, I related the incident with Misha to one of the adult church members. As I spoke—in Russian—one of Misha’s young friends, 10-year-old Natasha, listened intently.
“But I can understand you,” Natasha said when I explained how Misha couldn’t fathom ?my words.
“That’s because you have good ears,” I said, joking.
But in reality Natasha understood me because she had listened to me talk for more than a year. She had sat next to me during after-church youth programs. She had spoken to me regularly after church services when she had presented me with handmade cards and other small gifts.
Misha did not know me except from a single, short conversation several months earlier.
The same is true with God: If we talk with Him only every once in a while, we’ll have trouble understanding His voice. His words will sound as foreign to our ears as my Russian sounded to Misha. Paul tells us: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
But when we develop a relationship with Jesus—talking to Him every day and listening to Him speak through the Bible, Ellen White’s writings, meditation, and music—we grow to understand His voice. This understanding of His voice is vital if we are to follow Him—and not some impostor—in these last days of earth’s history.
Jesus raised this issue with the Pharisees, who were fraudulent spiritual guides to the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus said: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:2-4; emphasis supplied).
By abiding with Jesus, we will know His voice and understand what He says—just like one little Russian girl who understood me perfectly.
Andrew McChesney is a journalist living in Russia. This article was published March 25, 2010.