What did I do yesterday? I worked on learning French. What am I doing today? I'm catching up on my French (and writing a blog to tell you about it, obviously). I won't belabor the point by describing for you what's on the block for tomorrow. I'm sure you see the pattern.
There are moments, particularly when we hear about the current doctor strike in Kenya, or try to work on projects in advance for Burundi, that I think, "What am I doing? I'm a doctor. What am I doing working on a homework assignment by asking a complete stranger where they are going on their next vacation?" (Which incidentally, John did the same assignment, struck up a friendship, and was invited to borrow the stranger's mother-in-law's camping car on their next trip to Brittany.)
Well, there are several therapeutic options for the malady in which I can find myself. One is to remember that this year is not simply a means to an end. There is a book title that goes something like "Language Learning is Relationship is Ministry." And I think that's true. And while we learn French, friendships are made. We grow in community and vision. The local church here has repeatedly told us that the presence of language-learning missionaries has been a boon to the spiritual life of their community.
But for the sake of this post, let's say it is just a means to an end. Because, what an end! It boggles my mind to consider it. Years of caring for the sick and poor in Burundi, all done in French (and Kirundi). Years of clinical teaching of generations of medical students and residents, all in French. Conversations about drip rates, antibiotic choices, when to operate, how to improve the plumbing, poverty and justice, God's calling in young lives, love, redemption, grace... all in French.
Some very wise friends once told us that language is the single-most important factor in opening up relationships between missionaries and the community they are serving. Indeed, language is not just about the "stuff" being communicated, but about the communication itself, which is the very fabric of a friendship.
Is it an investment, then? In many ways, it is exactly that, and one that takes a decent amount of long-term thinking. But as investments go, the payoff is tremendous.