Today is the Feast of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit. Coming as I do from a very broad range of church backgrounds when it comes to charismatic/Pentecostal issues, this annual day always raises questions about the role of the gift of tongues (and others) in the church. Different interpretations of this day can even lead to divisions. But let's put that all aside for a moment.
If it is nothing else, Pentecost is the day where the followers of Jesus begin to carry out the work Jesus had given them. After his resurrection, Jesus had told his followers to wait in Jerusalem for just such an event, and then they will go out and be his witnesses to the world.
I guess a lot of different things could have happened to fulfill this promise of Jesus. But we got a specific something: The followers were visited by a great wind, as well as some flame-like/tongue-like things, and they started to speak in such a way where people from many different countries could understand them in their mother tongue, i.e. their "heart language".
And what did these people say about that? "We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:11) And thus the mission of the church began.
This year is unique is our lives, as we are neck deep (or perhaps even forehead-deep) in learning a language. And we are about to start learning another. So, I can't help but connect with the story on this level. Jesus is about to send his people out to all the world to declare the mighty works of God in Jesus, and he kicks it off like this. And lo and behold, the people understand what's happening. The Gospel for all nations is proclaimed to numerous peoples all at once, to each own in the own tongue. It's like a tiny preview of what will continue to unfold for thousands of years.
The relationship of the mission and the miraculous sign of God seems way too close to be coincidental.
Interestingly, all these people were Jews. So, I would guess (though I surely don't know) that most could speak to one another in a common tongue, maybe Greek, maybe Aramaic or Latin. So, strictly speaking, this sign may not have been necessary to communicate facts. But the importance of the heart language is maintained, and people are amazed to hear such things addressed to them, since it is their tongue.
It goes without saying that each of us would give our nose in order to have the Holy Spirit come like a wind and enable us to be immediately understood perfectly by those who communicate in French and Kirundi. Hélas, I don't anticipate that happening.
And yet, I think the story of Pentecost still captures the mission of our time in language study, namely to be able to declare the goodness of God, the mighty works of God, to the nations of the earth in their own tongues. That they would know that it is for them.
And it appears that God is interested in gifting himself to us to see that that happens.