I am a missionary who works with many different language groups. I am comfortable in a meeting where multiple languages are spoken. For the most part, I can follow all the conversations. Yet I have the hardest time understanding English dialects from different regions of the United States!
Recently, I was in two different Americas. I went from Douglas, Ga. one weekend to Hartford, Conn. the next. I don’t believe you can find two places in our country that are any more different than these. I had never visited New England and was excited about the opportunity. I had a lot to learn. For example: I knew Connecticut was small, but I didn’t know that when you back your car out of the driveway, the rear tires end up in another state. Yes, it really is that small.
I also discovered that in this part of the country, you can’t swing a cat without hitting something historic. In fact, if you add up all the places where George Washington is supposed to have eaten or slept, he must have spent at least 127 years in Connecticut. But the most difficult part of the weekend was trying to understand the Connecticut version of the English language. I am not kidding! As someone who has lived most of his life in the center of the United States (where people speak English correctly), the Connecticut accent threw me for a loop.
Sunday morning, a lady came forward at the invitation time, and I couldn’t understand a word she said. She keep patting her heart and repeating the same thing over and over. Finally, the pastor had to interpret, telling me she wanted me to pray over her because she had a heart condition. The best way I can describe the way these people speak is they suck air out between each letter of a word to see how much they can condense it. Next, to condense it even more, they remove some of the vowels. As my new Connecticut friends talked to me, I kept thinking, “I’d like to buy a vowel for $200.” In the end, God showed up, the Holy Spirit became our interpreter . . . and I probably won’t be asked back any time soon.
Thinking back on my time in Douglas, I decided the same air and vowels that are sucked out of the words in Connecticut must be added to the words used by people from that part of the country. A Georgia drawl can turn a one-syllable word into three. My friends there pronounce every letter in every word so slowly that it can drive a person from Oklahoma crazy. Why should it take 10 minutes to order a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s drive-through? I don’t know how they can get anything done when it takes half the morning just to say, “Hooo-ooooow aaaaa-aaaaaaare yoooooooo-uuuuuuu-aaaaaaalll?”
In Connecticut, I used my Global Positioning System (GPS) to give me directions from the airport to the church. The GPS also has a number of languages programmed into it. You can have it give directions in Spanish, French, Hungarian or an accent from various regions of the United States, but not Connecticut English. That’s probably a good thing. If the GPS used a Connecticut accent, the number of accidents would rise because it would say “Trnriht infotyfeet.” I’m glad the GPS doesn’t have a setting for Georgia English, either. By the time it drawled out your directions, you would miss your turn by a mile.
One day, someone will come out with a Christian GPS. A “King James English” setting would be cool. As you near your turn, it speaks, “I beseech you therefore brother, by the mercy of God, turneth right.” It continues, “Whatever thou doest, doest quickly.” If you miss your turn, it starts shouting, “REPENT, REPENT, TURNETH AROUND.”
Just as different parts of our country have different dialects and languages, different parts of our families do, too. My wife’s language is different from mine; our children’s languages are different from ours. Both my wife and my sons tell me that the most difficult language of all is . . . mine.
We need an interpreter to help us filter our differences, and God has sent us one. Not only does the Holy Spirit help me understand the Father, but He also helps me listen to my wife and children so I can understand their hearts and needs. This interpreter will help them know my heart, too.
And all the people in Connecticut said, “AMN” and all the people in Georgia said, “Aaaaaa-Meeeee-eeeeenN.”