by Jill Lienemann, Kesher International Missions | ©2013
“The natives showed us extraordinary kindness;…” (Acts 28:2a NASB)
The word “natives” in this scripture is the Greek “barbaros” or the English translation of “barbarians”. The reference is not in the context of savagery or being uncivilized but instead as a connotation of being foreigners, neither Greek nor Roman. Malta was settled by the Phoenicians around 1000 BC and later came under control of the Carthaginian Empire (Carthage was also a former Phoenician colony in North Africa). The Romans conquered Malta in 218 BC so when Paul and his companions landed on the island in 60 AD, the majority of the people still spoke a dialect of their root language. Punic words are compiled by a set of three consonants filled in between by vowels, so phonetically the Maltese speech probably sounded like babbling to those who were educated in Greek or Latin.
Whether traveling across the world or just to a neighboring state, you may not understand the language even when they are speaking your own native tongue. Incomprehension of what is being communicated to you can produce feelings of frustration, humiliation and even anger. Don’t let these emotions lead you into an attitude of superiority and stereotyping. “…patience is better than pride. Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8b-9 NIV) “In your anger do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26a NIV)
Verbal articulation is not reflective of someone’s intelligence, education, social position or openness. Paul was a scholarly rabbi and the leader of Gentile evangelism yet he said, “I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge.” (2 Corinthians 11:6a NIV) Moses was reared by a wealthy family and the leader of the Jewish exodus out of Egypt. Nevertheless, he stated, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you [God] have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10 NIV)
Paul may have been an accidental missionary to Malta; however, your mission journey is planned and purposeful. In order to love the people of a different culture, you need to know a little bit about their language. Even better, learn a few basic phrases and words in their native tongue which will go a long way in demonstrating your willingness to overcome a barrier and make a strong connection in building relationships.
KESHER PRAYER (connection): God, help me to not judge others when I feel helpless and overwhelmed (Ephesians 4:26). I have answered your charge to “now go” and believe that you will assist me to effectively speak and also give me the words to say (Exodus 4:11-12). Jesus, please loose the impediment of my tongue so that I speak plainly (Mark 7:35). Give me kingdom eyes and supernatural understanding so that I will not see a fierce people with obscure speech of a stammering tongue beyond perception (Isaiah 33:19), but rather lost children who need to hear of your love and salvation. Amen!