This blog post originally appeared on Matt and Michelle Norman’s blog, Another Day Along the Way. In July of 2011, the Normans were commissioned as CBF field personnel, and in the spring of 2013, they moved to Barcelona, Spain. Currently, they are learning language and will partner alongside the Union of Evangelical Baptists of Spain. Their primary ministry will be among immigrants and refugees as well as resourcing local Christians in their ministry in these areas.
Recently, I listened. It was during what should have been a short trip of only five kilometers (3 miles) to the other side of Barcelona. As we entered the early morning traffic and came to a standstill my mind ran through all the Spanish I had been learning. Here was an opportunity to practice speaking with someone who knew no English. I wrestled with the words in my head and stumbled over several small questions. That is when it happened. I listened.
The words began to come from my new friend. He spoke more slowly than usual offering me the grace needed, and I listened intently as I understood. He was telling me his story; sharing with me, himself. As I listened, I felt his words. I felt his hardships, his challenges faced and overcome and his joy and emotion. The tears appeared in his eyes as he remembered and smiles came after as he demonstrated God’s love in his life via his experience. Me, I just listened.
Forty minutes later, as we pulled up to our destination, he asked if I understood all he had told me in Spanish. I told him yes, and I did understand his Spanish, but as I continue to contemplate our time together I think I continue to understand anew. Jane Vella in her book, “Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach” reminds us that a wise man once said, “Don’t just do something, sit there.” I was ready to talk. I was ready to speak those new words I had learned and if I had insisted that I practice talking, then I would have missed out on learning something much deeper.
Language is so much deeper than just words. The perspectives shared via the words share culture, values, worldview (how we think the world works) and ultimately they share who we are as humans. My friend shared who he was with me on that short journey across town. That is a big responsibility; maybe that is why listening is so hard for us to do. If we listen and receive the humanity of another, then we are faced with a vulnerability that asks for nothing less than the same in return. If we receive, we must give nothing less than our self.
I suspect this is what our communities need from us…our listening, our humanity, our lives.
I can’t reciprocate and tell my story to my new friend in Spanish just yet. Give me a few more months. There are somethings that transcend words. Simply listening can communicate just how much I am willing to give.