An advertisement for a trip to Hawaii in 2022

To complete the science requirements for my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in what I thought would be an interesting and relatively easy course.

To complete the science requirements for my bachelor’s degree, I enrolled in what I thought would be an interesting and relatively easy course.

On the first day of class, the professor asked: “If you simultaneously put one of your hands in a container of hot water and your other hand in a container of cold water, which will your body become—hot or cold?”

At first I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

Next I hoped he’d asked a hypothetical question, since I had no idea how to respond. Then I noticed that he was scanning the list of names on the class role. I still thought I would escape, since my name was near the bottom of the list. That, unfortunately, is not always a good thing.

He called out my name and waited for a reply.

The only answer I could think of was “wet,” and I was fairly certain that was not the answer he wanted. He then offered, in elaborate detail, what I assume was the answer to his question.

That professor might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Although I recognized the words he spoke, I did not understand what he said. In fact, the last word he said that I actually understood was my name. No one else seemed to understand him either, but that did not make me feel any better.

Common language does not automatically result in effective communication. Relationships of every kind prove this reality. And sometimes the next things we say are even more important than the first thing we say.

Christians have for centuries been amazed at the events Acts 2 records: “a sound like the rush of a violent wind … divided tongues, as of fire, … other languages … devout Jews from every nation under heaven … each one heard them speaking in the native language of each …” (see Acts 2:1-6).

Like those present on that day, we are dazzled by the special effects. We, though, often overlook the very important question in verse 12: “All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?'”

While they understood the language of the message, they did not understand its meaning. If those first words had been the only words they heard, the message would have been lost on them.

The book of Acts goes on to reveal both the joys and the challenges the early church encountered as it tried to answer questions of faith and practice. Within the chapters of Acts we find not only the beginnings of missions but also of Christian education.

Proclamation is an important part of missions, but it’s not the only part. First words must be followed both by additional words that explain them and by authentic lives that validate them.

Our efforts in missions and Christian education are complete only when we challenge ourselves and others to answer the question: What does this mean?

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

Share This