“Why don’t you just teach the people Spanish rather than trying to learn their language?” This question is a common one when people hear that we are spending so much time learning the indigenous language. So why would my team spend 3+ years to learn the Tarahumara language? The main reason is that people tend to communicate deep subjects in their mother tongue. I would like to give you a few examples that my teammate, Juanita, has experienced now that she has been able to participate in Tarahumara conversation.
Our closest neighbor sometimes stops by our house to chat. One time she said that she had just came from another neighbor because she wanted her toothache healed. Since when do you tell the missionary that you just visited the witchdoctor? In other visits she explained more about witchdoctors, curses, and other superstitions. Previously when we talked to her in Spanish, she never said any of these things, now she gladly explains them in her mother tongue.
A group of children were coloring at our house one day. They began telling Juanita about a dream their uncle had. In this dream the devil was chasing God and God was crying. The whole family was frightened, and these poor little children were terrified. They asked Juanita, “Could this be true?” These children could have never related this story in Spanish because they do not yet know Spanish. Even if they did, Spanish just doesn’t have the “right” words that reflect their worldview.
A middle-aged lady stopped in our house a few months ago. She requested prayer that she could have a child since she only has one child that is now a teenager. Later she stopped in again. She said she had become pregnant after we prayed, but she miscarried. She went on to tell Juanita that it is because she has been cursed. Her husband has not been faithful, and his other partner put a curse on her. She went on to relate more of the story of their relationship problems to Juanita. If this lady would have needed to communicate in Spanish, most of this would have gone unspoken.
Whether talking about town gossip, legends, dreams or their beliefs; Spanish just doesn’t cover it for the Tarahumara people. Juanita has grown up among these people and related to them in Spanish many times, but they are finally sharing these stories now that she knows the Tarahumara language better. The best way for these people to express their worldview and belief system is to speak in their mother tongue. Shouldn’t the Good News of Jesus be spoken in this language? Instead of talk of witchcraft and curses, shouldn’t these people have the opportunity to discuss the pure Word of God in their own mother tongue? Our team is learning the language so that we can meet this very need.