When talking about penetrating a language group that has never been written down with the gospel, the question is sometimes asked, “But why not just teach them English? Then they would have access to all of these English resources like the Bible and commentaries and good books, etc.”
To understand why this isn’t the strategy, you must first understand that an indigenous language houses more than just words. There are whole ideologies, word pictures, and abstract thought processes found in a language that best describe their culture, their way of life, their worldview.
If you don’t learn a people group’s language, you miss out on the core of how they think and understand the world. How can you dispel a faulty worldview, if you haven’t learned the language well enough to understand it?
But there is another whole side to this question. Imagine about moving into a village to share the gospel with your strategy being to teach the people English. English would be a brand-new language, being taught to a variety of age groups—a good amount of whom are elderly and many of whom are illiterate. Assuming people would have the desire and motivation and dedication that it takes to learn a language as difficult as English (which is a big assumption), you would still be teaching a vastly complicated language filled with numerous ‘exceptions to the rule’, weird spelling, and inflection variations that affect meaning.
Think how difficult it is for an educated person to learn a second language. Think how many hours are required, how much work is involved. Think how long it would take this educated person not just to have a rudimentary, ‘where is the bathroom?’ understanding of the language, but to truly achieve the kind of understanding it takes to discuss and debate about abstract philosophy, to ask deep questions and understand responses.
This would require an enormous amount of time! Far more time than it would take someone here, motivated by urgency of the gospel, to be trained in doing this very thing and equipped with all the tools they need to be successful.
And we haven’t even touched on Bible translation! Having God’s word in the language they understand best. Imagine if every morning in your devotions, your only option was to read Scripture in your second language or even your third. Think how much more difficult it would be to understand the truths of Scripture!
Gospel realities are matters of the heart and must be communicated—in word and writing—in one’s heart language, the language they understand best. There is far too much at stake for us to do anything less.