Must You Really Learn That Language?

Posted on: 
September 16, 2022

“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.

—David S.

Visit the Tarahumara Project page

  • “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
  • “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witness of these things.” Luke 24:47, 48
  • “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Matthew 28:19
  • “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
  • “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel.” Ephesians 3:6
  • “That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
  • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?” Mark 11:17
  • “Ask of me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.” Psalm 2:8
  • “Behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.” Revelation 7:9
  • “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1
  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105
  • “As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country.” Proverbs 25:25
  • “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Psalm 19:10
  • “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” Psalm 22:27
  • “Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21
  • “Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.” Psalm 96:3, 4
  • “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
  • “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.” 1 Kings 8:60
  • “For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations.” Malachi 1:11
  • “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Psalm 86:9
  • “For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Isaiah 61:11
  • "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" Psalm 46:10
  • "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
  • "You are worthy. . .; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God." Revelation 5:9, 10