So I'm teaching myself Russian. Interesting language, that. It doesn't conform readily to American English, or at least as readily as I'd prefer, but it sounds rather cool. Plus I'm heading to Ukraine this summer, and it'd be fun to be able to interact with folks who don't speak English well. Ironically, we're going, in part, to help teach English. It's fun watching movies like The Hunt for Red October and The Bourne Supremacy and pick out those words I've learned from the Russian dialogue. I hope to be roughly conversational by the point we leave for Ukraine. (And if any of you know good Russian resources, or interesting movies that have Russian speech, let me know!)
I'm hoping to soon order food at our local Ukrainian deli using my robust (er, passable? pathetic?) Russian skills.
I love other languages too. I was (at one point) semi-fluent in Spanish, although have not practiced it sufficiently to remain so. I find myself having to think through things much more than I used to, and have forgotten more vocabulary than I realized I ever knew. On our honeymoon, we would watch movies in the hotel, and I'd actually correct the Spanish subtitles. I don't think I could do that now, but I do love hearing Spanish.
I'd also like to learn Quenya, which sounds like a geek-goal, but - nah, who am I kidding? It is a geek goal.
(Sidebar: my wife says I'm a geek, which differs from being a nerd in that geeks get things done. I can live with that.)
Learning other languages, though, takes some effort. I'm fortunate enough to have been blessed with a bent towards all things grammar-oriented (although admittedly I break a few rules on this blog from time to time) so some concepts come to me fairly quickly. But it's still work. If all I got out of it was the momentary satisfaction of recognizing when a Russian submariner in a film says "извините" it wouldn't be worth the work. And if I just like the way it sounds, I can buy Russian music and just listen. Sometimes it doesn't seem worth the effort.
Then I read Dr. Witherington's reminder that we Christians should really be at the forefront of understanding not just those with whom we share geographic space, but those across the globe. Jesus died for all people, not just those here.
That's one of the reasons my wife traveled twice to India, to minister to the least of these. It's why I'm going to Ukraine to teach English, and to encourage children living in an orphanage. It's why I love working in a job where I interact with people from many, many cultures.
I am NOT anti-American, but I find myself wondering why I consider myself primarily an American so often. I am as patriotic as they come, but first and foremost I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. The U.S. will one day be but a memory, while God's kingdom will remain forever.
Learning other languages and striving to understand (and relate to!) people around the globe build a discipline of thought that forces me to look outside my culture. Going on a missions trip, as Dr. Witherington recommends, is another way to build that discipline. Asking questions of, and interacting with, people from other cultures and nations in the blogosphere is another. I learn much from my non-American brothers and sisters (to cite two of many examples available) with blogs. God doesn't care which nation you're from; He wants your heart and mind and soul regardless of skin color, culture or nation. I should value nothing less. And if learning Russian helps me value another group of people more, it's an investment well spent.