I said I’d need to explain the coaching, so here goes:
Often when I talk about language/culture coaching, I am met with blank stares or questions. A Language/Culture Coach can look differently in different contexts; but I’m interested in helping those–specifically missionaries–who are moving to a new country learn that language and culture so they can be successful and remain on the field.
Moving to a new country is a major event! If someone is moving to a location that speaks a different language, basic skills like speaking and listening are no longer possible! Let’s pause to let that sink in. Basically every area of life is going to be impacted and hindered–not just practically, but also socially and relationally.
The reason that missionaries even dare leave behind their family, friends, comforts, and all that is familiar is for the sake of relationship. Ultimately they want to introduce others to Jesus whose relationship allows people to then get to know God the Father…and let’s not leave out the Holy Spirit who helps reveal Jesus and births the life that is meant to be continually relating to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I started to apologize for the theological detour, but no way! .
Imagine going through the blood, sweat, and tears (mostly figurative ) it takes to learn a second language to be able to at least communicate even if there is embarrassment or struggle. If that were the only hurdle! Language, however, is intricately tied to culture. When we don’t understand the culture of a group of people, we can master the linguistics but fail to communicate–or worse, send messages of arrogance or disinterest. This, of course, closes people off rather than cultivating relationships. As a coach, one of my roles is to help the learner understand where culture plays into their experiences, relationships, communication, and language-learning so that they can be effective in their mission.
While Jesus supersedes us on so many levels, He Himself is our perfect example. He humbled Himself to become not just man, but first a baby, unable to talk. He developed His skills which thankfully do come much more naturally as an infant and child as He learned Aramaic; but He still went through the language acquisition process. He absorbed the culture of the Bible because this was where He lived and what He experienced on a daily basis. Olive branches, mustard seeds, farming, fishing, sheep–He grew up with these; so He could communicate with the people of Israel because He spoke the language and knew how to relate to them culturally. He could also beautifully relate to and bring the Gospel to those outside of his home culture despite the cultural and linguistic challenges, which is the precise role of a missionary.
Even if we were all language gurus and culturally savvy and sensitive to perfection, there is another element that language/culture coaching can address. Cross-cultural living presents situations and needs that don’t exist or at least look very different from those in our home country.
Living in a different culture can be exciting and rewarding, but by nature it is stressful and depleting. The constant change and different ways of thinking, understanding, and communicating put more demand on everyday tasks, making it difficult to identify the stress.
Though not an exhaustive list and maybe a bit repetitive, a coach helps the learner identify their language needs, sets realistic goals, and helps them to stick to or adjust the goals. (S)he can help them locate resources and discern which ones are suitable for the learner at a particular time. A coach can help the learner recognize obstacles or challenges and how to address them and encourage the learner each step of the way. A coach is a fan and source of support, praying for and with the learner. A coach may help the learner identify cross-cultural stress when it is not obvious. These are just a few examples because people’s situations are complex, and each unique person in a particular ministry context will offer its own set of possibilities.
For this reason, I believe that every missionary could benefit from a language/culture coach! My desire is to come alongside missionaries who are preparing to move to (and sometimes already in) a new country with a new language and new culture. I also believe that short-termers would benefit from a coach, but that’s another article for another time. 🙂