Semester 2 & fənɘɾɪks

February 16, 2017

I remember praying in one of the hallways of Piedmont Baptist College (now Piedmont International University), telling God that I didn’t know if He wanted me to stay there or pursue New Tribes Mission. This was when I was 19. It was the following day that, unbeknownst to me, a New Tribes rep was scheduled to speak for our chapel period. I had no clue what it meant to adapt to another culture in order to reach an unreached people group – I just knew that New Tribes was legit. Man! Fast-forward nine years, and now I find myself in a class called Foundational Bible Teaching (pictured above), that is teaching me and my wife how to break down and contextualize a series of 50+ Bible lessons, which will build a proper foundation on which we can lay the gospel message. After that, we go to Phonetics class for two hours and undo all of the phonics work our elementary teachers slaved over, as we learn sounds very different from the English language, and in some cases completely foreign. When I started hearing about these kinds of classes back in Bible school I was pretty excited, but now that it’s here, I just can’t imagine doing missions without this training.

If you’re wondering, fənɘɾɪks is the phonetic spelling of phonetics. The spelling starts with the voiceless labiodental fricative, followed by a mid-central vowel, followed by the alveolar nasal… …oh, never mind. Actually, a lot of that is still pretty new to us – we haven’t even really gotten to vowels yet. By the way, in case you don't know why we're being trained in phonetics, when we get into the tribe, they won't have a written language, so we'll have to transcribe what they're saying by writing it in phonetic symbols. Once we've become fluent, we'll develop a literacy program to teach the tribal people how to read and write their own language, and then appoint some of them as teachers and train them to teach the next generation and so on. All this so they can read the Bible many years down the road because what's the point in translating the Bible if the people can't even read it?

This past week in phonetics, we were introduced to tonal languages. One of the most common tonal languages is Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, the same word means five very different things depending on the pitch in which you say it. If you look at the picture below, this will make a lot more sense. The diacritic mark above the a symbolizes the pitch in which the word needs to be said to convey the intended meaning. A lot of unreached tribes have tonal languages and because it can take years and years to learn it and become fluent, it's very daunting to commit to this type of tribe.

In addition to having our minds stretched so much already, we have a lot of classes that are going to continue stretching us. We started out with an Honor and Shame class, which shed light on something that we as Americans aren’t as conscious of compared to Eastern cultures. I’m doing a disservice to the class to not spend more time on it in this newsletter, but it was good to see how the bible addresses honor and shame in relation to both God and man. Our learning of honor and shame have just begun, and our cross-cultural edge will sharpen as we delve deeper into understanding that concept. Aside from classes, I’m looking forward to a men’s backpacking trip that the school takes every spring. The trip is supposed to be educational in nature as we address aspects of teamwork, but I think that I may end up enjoying the sport too much to absorb all of the education.

Other classes we have coming up include Grammar, CLA (Culture and Language Acquisition), Romans 5-8, Animism and MPD (Ministry Partnership Development, which is a fancy name for deputation).

Laura and I have been having a great time using our skills for our work-detail here at school. We are part of a team that plays a large role in mobilizing new students to the MTC. Mobilizing is the word we use for recruitment. It definitely sounds less militaristic. I've spent the last few weeks programming something for the school, and Laura has been writing content for some of their new material. Hopefully, we'll be able to show some of that work when we come home this summer.

There are a couple people missing, but here’s a picture of most of the team from a couple days ago. The one guy’s face is blurred out for security reasons, since he and his wife are pursuing mission work in a closed country.

So to backtrack a little bit, Laura and I were home for a very fast month. We didn’t get to spend time with everyone we had planned to, and we ended up not getting to speak much to our church (thanks, snow). We’re planning to record something soon to sort of make up for our lost speaking opportunity, but there’s really no way to make up for the loss of time with people you care about. We’re sorry. We realized that we’re going to have to schedule our breaks from now on. Regardless, we had a very enjoyable break. Being with family monopolized our time (in a good way), followed by spending time with friends from our church. God gave both of us opportunities to work at our old jobs. He’s provided Laura’s parents with a lot of room to spare, which is a huge deal for us to not have to figure out a maze of logistical issues every time we come home, or that we don’t have to even consider the cost of rent. Even if we couldn’t stay there, we know several people that would take us in, which is definitely something we’re thankful for. We were greatly encouraged by the sincerity of many people’s support for what we’re doing. It was a fast month, but probably because so many people engaged us, and because we engaged them back. However, leaving home, knowing the people we were going back to, was less difficult this time, but who knows how that will go in the future.

Anyway, I hope more people than us are getting a 3-day weekend with President’s day on Monday. If not, we’ll enjoy it for you ;)

Nate and Laura