Monday, June 16, 2014

The day I accidentally preached in Mongolian

The train of events started about a week and a half ago, with a text from one of my students saying (ominously), "Hi teacher, can I ask you something?" Knowing this will almost always be followed by a request, not an inquiry, I replied that I could indeed be asked something. Upon which followed the request, would you please come and share the word at a small church?

Having established that (a) No, I couldn't preach in 2 days time, (b) that someone would be there to translate, and (c) there would be some arrangements for getting there, I agreed for the following Sunday.

During the week I tried to prepare something on John 4, but as Friday came around I decided that I hadn't really arrived anywhere and so instead I would preach something more familiar. In general I am not a big fan of recycling sermon material, but I will do it on occasion, and so I set about re-preparing an old sermon on John 2:12ff.

I am not a big fan of preaching with a translator, as I find it disruptive to my ability to speak freely in English, and I am obviously much better at speaking in English. So on the occasions I have preached at chapel, I have never felt that it went particularly well. Anyway, although I am no expert in preaching through translation, I prepared for this by working through the sermon into simplified English, and using simple sentences instead of complex ones. At the same time I read through the Mongolian passages I would utilise, and I would mentally compose or practice some of the material in Mongolian.

The Sunday rolled around and it was a rainy one. My student was to come and meet me and help me get to this church, but they were heading off on a short term mission trip on the Monday so I received a message about 9am that a young guy would pick me up. He promptly turned up at 9:45, an amazing 15 mins early (no-one is ever early in Mongolia), and we set off across the city.

Now, you should understand that we live a few kilometres East of the city centre. Most of our life is centered on this part of town. We don't go into the city centre that often, and we even more rarely go west of it. So an hour's drive west across the city took me into parts at first seldom visited, and then into areas where I had no real idea where we were.

We were early to church too. We entered a typical apartment building and then went through a door with no handle down into a below-ground level space. The church was the size of 2 or 3 typical apartment rooms, but one big space. Actually it was quite well kept, they were cleaning the floors when I arrived. I met the woman who pastors the church (sorry, I forget Mongolian names very easily which is why no one in this story has a name), and took a seat to wait.

Some more people arrived and we had a small prayer meeting before the service. Then my translator arrived, he introduced himself as David, which I found amusing because I am not used to Mongolians having English names. It turns out he studies at MIU, which is an English language college here.

Anyway, I chatted to him a little before the actual service started, he is a final year student in International Management or Relations or whatever that vague discipline is. His English was passable but he didn't seem that confident. I think it was about this time I realised that the more I was able to speak in Mongolian, the better it would go.

The service got underway with about 25-30 people perhaps, I am not a good estimator. We had some singing, a greeting time, a testimony time, and then it was me.

So I had never really planned to speak mostly Mongolian, but I began that way and tried my best to stick to Mongolian. At times I stopped and said some things in English, and David would translate. Occasionally he would repeat some of my Mongolian in more correct Mongolian. And occasionally I would say something in English and then begin to translate for him.

I don't know how long I talked for. Probably not as long as they expected, but given my language skills probably that was okay. I usually take my phone up to the pulpit and use it as a timer, but sometimes (as on this occasion) I forget to set it up.

Overall I think it went okay. It is hard! One just does not have the depth of expression, the ability to express precise or deep concepts, or the freedom, when operating in a second language, at least at the point where I am; I suppose several years of this would be different.

Still, it seemed like people understood both what I was saying as well as the main point(s) that I was trying to convey, and they were warm and appreciative, so it was not a disaster.

After the service I spoke with some of the young men (all 3 of them, but to be honest I was glad there were indeed some men there, Mongolian Christianity is often demographically weighted to women even more than some western contexts) for a while, and grabbed a photo, before we set off on the even-longer-than-before (traffic) drive home.

And that is the story of how I accidentally preached my first sermon in Mongolian (mostly).

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