An Adventure in Missionary Faux Pas
We often think of missionaries in black and white terms. Usually, as superheroes or caustic creatures. But the truth is they, just like everyone else, are awkwardly trying to share God’s love in challenging places. So, in this BLOG series I'm calling “Lost in Translation,” I will share funny stories of missionaries trying their best, but hilariously failing.
We stood there in a tight circle talking in muted tones, in an effort not to disturb the other prayer groups placed throughout this small private school gym in Hungary. Our prayer team was made up of myself, my 15-year-old daughter, Gen, and a Hungarian Catholic Priest. The priest was there as an intercessor and interpreter. A young woman came up to us and asked in Hungarian for prayer. I led out in prayer, and the priest began what I thought to be the Hungarian interpretation. Then, as I took a few moments of silence in the prayer, I noticed he was continuing to speak. At that moment it hit me…. “I only know a few words in Hungarian!” So, I began to listen for words I knew like Holy Spirit, God, and bathroom…. (You know the usual words we cross-cultural missionaries learn six weeks before departure). I still could not figure out what was happening. “Is he praying in Hungarian or interpreting?” I didn’t know what to do. I glanced at my 15-year-old who gave me the, “I have no idea what is going on right now” look, then to the priest who was so deep in prayer that he was unable to sense my confusion. Not wanting to interrupt the priest, I waited for him to catch his breath before praying again. We continued in this awkward way for about 3 minutes (also known as eternity) until we made eye contact and I clumsily closed the prayer.
Our team of 6 had been in the country for over a week, and we were now doing our second ALPHA leadership training. We spent six months preparing by learning about the Hungarian culture, ALPHA International and developing speeches and Prezis (PowerPoints on steroids) to teach church leaders how to run the ALPHA Course in their community. It was after the prayer training section that our missionary asked us to open up the room for intercessory prayer and placed us with an interpreter, mine a Catholic priest. What I didn’t know was that he was a charismatic Catholic. So it turned out he wasn’t even speaking Hungarian at all… My interpreter needed an interpreter…
1. Always find out if your interpreter speaks in a personal prayer language during intersession.
2. There are charismatic Catholics. Seriously, I had no idea.
3. Spend more time learning language skills before hitting the field.