I remember a funny incident way back in 2005. It was the first time for us to be on foreign mission where we actually had to use the local language – Tetum – in all the talks that we would give. At first, we would give the talks in Bahasa because our Indonesian CFC brethren had already translated the basic teachings into Bahasa Indonesia. At least that way, we could do our CLPs and Youth Camps properly without having to worry about language barriers. But, as Timor Leste had already been independent from Indonesia for almost 6 years when we started our mission (we arrived in 2005), we were challenged more and more to use Tetum as it was more widely spoken and accepted by the Timorese.
During one of our first YFC Youth Camps, Anthony was giving Talk 4 on Receiving God’s Gift – the Power of the Holy Spirit. In one of the pointers on how we can receive the Holy Spirit, it is stated that we should “simply ask, and we will receive.” In the Tetum language, this translates into “husu deit, no ita sei simu.” This phrase is pronounced basically the way it is spelt out, particularly for the word “husu” the “hu” is pronounced the same way as the English word “who”. Therein lies the importance of proper pronunciation, as you will read further on.
So during Anthony’s talk, he was going over the pointers on receiving the Holy Spirit, when we noticed that at one point the participants started laughing. Even the service team couldn’t help giggling. Surprised, I asked one of the YFC members what prompted their laughter. He replied that Maun (in Tagalog, Kuya or older brother) Tony had mispronounced one of the words – instead of saying “husu” he had said “hosu.”
And what does “hosu” mean in English?
To pass gas.
Yikes! Talk about embarrassing!
Instead of saying “simply ask, and we will receive (the Holy Spirit)”, Anthony had said “simply fart (pardon the term), and we will receive…”
Needless to say, from that time on, we have made sure to pronounce properly our Tetum words, especially when giving talks.
The moral behind this story: to all you foreign missionaries and foreign missionary-wannabes out there – learn the language of your country, including proper pronunciation please! But even when you make mistakes speaking a foreign language, learn to laugh at yourself! The language of laughter bridges all gaps!