Heart Talk On The Air

My Mother Tongue is …

If you are reading this article, it is very likely that your mother tongue is English.

Just imagine if someone in your family were to turn on the radio and exclaim, “How wonderful to hear our own language!” You would probably be rather surprised!

We have English television and radio round the clock; we speak it at work, at school, and in stores. If we go to another country, we will probably find English speakers there too. Our language is known and used worldwide, and we often take it for granted.

How different is the experience of many FEBC International listeners! In Pakistan, for example, the national language of Urdu is the mother tongue of fewer than ten percent of the population — this means that many speak a different language in their school or office, than the one they normally use at home.

Some, rarely — if ever — hear their own language on the radio … it is no wonder that FEBC International listeners who speak a “minority” language, are thrilled to hear theirs on the air!

A man in Pakistan happened to tune in to one of the ministry’s radio programs. He picked up his pen that same day to thank the producer, “I love listening to Siraiki,” he writes joyfully, “because it’s my mother tongue!”

Broadcasting to audiences in their own language is not just about communicating information. It carries a strong message that you are interested in them as people.

The first letter to the ministry’s broadcast in the Yemeni dialect of Arabic, proves this point:

“I send this letter on behalf of me, and a group of my Yemeni friends, to the producer of the radio program. We benefit a lot from your programs, by loving God and the children of Christ.

We thank you for caring for the believers in Yemen, by producing programs in our own language.

I wish for the whole world to be blessed, by lifting up the voice of Christ … and I wish you success. Please send me information from the Word of God.

I am 18 years old, and I hope to know the producers of these programs by receiving written letters from them.”

Some broadcasters argue that using a country’s official language, or a regional one used in trade, is the best use of resources … it is certainly less expensive to broadcast in one major language that is understood by most people in the region, than in several minor languages.

However, Christians working among minority groups will testify that communicating with people in their own “heart” language is more likely to draw them to the Lord.

Rev. C.A. Benjamin — FEBC International’s director in India — has preached widely throughout his country. He says more people respond when he preaches directly to them in their mother tongue, than when he does so through an interpreter. Why? “It’s more a heart talk than just words,” he explains.

That is the key! The Gospel is about heart issues … and it is one’s mother tongue that people first learn to express their hearts — love, joy, sorrow. The Christian anthropologist Charles Kraft is convinced of the superiority of the “heart” language for sharing the Gospel.

“Heart concepts, such as Christian conversions and growth, seldom mean what they ought to mean in any language but the ‘heart’ (usually the first) language of a people,” he writes.

Ease of understanding is only one of the issues that broadcasters need to consider. A country’s national language may have painful associations for some listeners — for example, the Oromo in Ethiopia.

One hundred years ago, the land of Oromia was invaded by “Christian” Amhara … and the people were subdued after a bloody struggle. Amharic became the official language of Ethiopia, and until recently was the only one used in schools.

Paulos — the producer of FEBC International’s Oromo programs — explains the effect of these events on the Oromo …

“They hated Christianity because of its association with enemy forces,” says Paulos. “They never thought Christianity had anything to offer them but colonization.” The result was that many Oromo embraced Islam — in order to have a different identity from the Amhara.

One can understand why Amharic would not be the language to tell the Oromo about the love of Christ! However, the ministry’s Oromo-language radio broadcasts have a substantial and appreciative audience.

“Even Muslims tune in,” says Paulos, “just to hear their language.” Oromo listeners regularly write, and say they have met with Jesus through the radio ministry.

Paulos, who is Oromo, has the ideal background for a program producer, because talking the same language as your audience “goes much deeper than words”. It means identifying with its culture, the joys and sorrows of its history, its art, its “world view” … it means understanding its religion, even if one’s own faith is different.

A major strength of FEBC International’s Yemeni service, is that it includes programs voiced by a local believer. The audience recognizes the presenter as “one of them”. Furthermore, a local voice disproves the assumption that the Gospel is “foreign” or (worse still, in the eyes of an Arabic audience) “Western”.

An Arabic ministry team member believes that hearing a local voice will have a strong impact on the Yemeni audience; this will make them think that there are Yemeni people who believe in Christ … but why?

Much of radio broadcasting is about identifying with the listener in their mother tongue — and the Bible has given us a profound example of this.

Church historians tell us that those who gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost — Parthians, Medes, and many other ethnic groups — probably all understood Greek, which was spoken throughout the Roman Empire.

Nevertheless, to declare the wonders of God, the Holy Spirit communicated personally and intimately with each one — in their own “heart” language.

Today, FEBC International broadcasts the Gospel in more than 150 “heart” languages of the world.

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