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I Think We Speak Different Languages, and That’s Beautiful

October 25, 2019 5 min read

Every couple of Thursdays, our house fills with mommas and babies, aunties and sisters. We crowd around our table, sitting on the couch or folding chairs or the floor. Kids build towers with legos and throw a few at unsuspecting victims. The rest of us talk and laugh. We share about our day or tell a story about something funny we saw recently.

In the kitchen, Kristy and I put the finishing touches on dinner—sometimes take out, other times something homemade. We’ve learned it doesn’t really matter what we eat. Food will always unite us.

This home—normally a quiet space—fills with noise and chaos in the best of ways. We wipe up food that spills onto the floor and laugh about water that falls from cups. It’s messy and beautiful and wonderful—the life-on-life kind of night our hearts ache for. 

And as we gather and talk and share life, our home fills with the sound of so many languages. Our friend Mylatte speaks Burmese. Nom wan speaks Thai. Paw wah adds Karen—one of the languages of the Karen people—to the mix. Rebecca and Eliana weave English, Thai, Karen, and Chinese into a single sentence. And the few Americans in the room speak English. 

Four. 

That’s four languages (plus a spattering of Chinese now and then) echoing through the room. Each of us picks up bits of the conversations we can understand. We simplify our words to help others join—using broken English or Thai or Karen or Burmese when needed. And when we need to communicate something to the entire group, time seems to slow down. 

First say it in English
Then Burmese 
Then Karen
Then Thai
Does everyone understand? 

What a beautifully complicated, chaotic gift. 

This is an average night at Braverly small group—a night for all of our Braverly women and any family or friends who want to come with them—to gather in our home. Our conversations range from completely silly to meaningful encouragement to thought-provoking questions. Every conversation, every question, every word needs translated into each language, and I think this is absolutely beautiful. 

When I came back to the States, people asked what the hardest part of life in Mae Sot was. For me, the answer was simple—the language. Thankfully, many people in Mae Sot understand enough English, and although my Thai is sad, I can get by. But after awhile, the shallow, small conversations become tiring.

Your girl doesn’t do small talk well. In fact, I hate it. But when the common language is so small, it’s all you can do. 

So I learned to do small talk like a champ while still craving the real deal—the kind of conversation that bonds and unites the hearts and souls of a group. 

But in this craving, in this longing for a common language, I found that it had always existed. It just didn’t look like words. It didn’t look like English or Thai or Burmese. It wasn’t like the tribal language of Karen or Poe Karen. 

It was the look of longing when we talked about family or showed pictures of our parents and siblings. It was the smile when we talked about our dreams for the future or held tangible pieces of our hopes close to our chest—like the way Hser Ku Paw held her new camera. It was the way we ducked and ran to avoid the pouring rain. It was the laughter that echoed in the room when we tried (and failed) to say something correctly in another language. It was the dance party that started when a song played over the speakers. 

Because despite our different languages, we were held together, united, and more similar than I could have ever imagined. 

That group of women in my living room on Thursday holds hopes and dreams for their futures. They long for a life for themselves and their families that is good and beautiful. They crave to be seen and known and loved by others. Kindness and empathy are desires of their hearts—being seen for more than just the hard parts of their stories. 

They like to try new things, and as scary as it is, they like to try challenging things. They like to prove themselves to others and to their own insecurities and doubts. They don’t like to get caught in the rain or stand in the blazing Thailand sun. Babies who bounce up and down to silly music make both of us laugh and dance along with them. Sometimes they say the wrong word in English, and most of the time, they laugh at me when I pronounce a Thai word incorrectly. 

We are held together by so much more than a language. We are united by our humanness, by the hopes and dreams and desires of our hearts. We find common ground in our delights and our sorrows, our stories. We are so very different—from different backgrounds and histories. And yet, we are one—the Church in its holy sacredness. We may not all believe the same things or hold the same values, but that’s ok. 

That’s ok. 

That’s ok.

I feel like I should say this again for America—a country who seems to lord their differences over others and can’t seem to pause long enough to find common ground. 

We may not believe the same things, think the same way, or hold the same values, and that’s ok. 

I don’t speak the same language as my beautiful Karen or Thai or Burmese friends. We come from distinct histories and experiences. We don’t think the same way about some things, but there exists a sisterhood forged by acts of love and kindness and empathy—values our world desperately needs. 

Church, we speak different languages. We come from different experiences and stories and histories, and this is beautiful. May we make space for one another and allow bonds of family to be forged out of this simple act of love.

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