Tangled Tongue

One of the wild things about living in another country is learning, then working, in a new language. Quite frankly, sometimes what starts out in your brain seems to get sidetracked and comes out of your mouth as something else.

One I was teasing a French lady who worked in our Christian coffee house in Luxembourg. She seemed a bit irritated, which was the goal. Irritating is one of my gifts. I wanted to say to her, “Look at Francoise. She’s got smoke (la fumée) coming out of her ears.”

But what I said was, “Look at Francoise. She’s got “fumier” (barnyard fertilizer) coming out of her ears.” “I hope not!” she a laughed.

Something else challenges you even more than the language though. After you’ve been in another culture for years, you change and you begin to wonder exactly what you are. In France I reflected, “I’m not really French, even though my friends are French and I work constantly in the language. I’ve got a different history, and I grew up with a different way of looking at the world.” It’s a long way from a village in the South to Paris.

But the problem is that I’m no longer what I was either. When I go back to the States I feel out of place, especially at first. My family and my first culture are in the USA, and many of my friends and my work are in Europe. Like a caterpillar which “metamorphed” halfway into a butterfly and stopped, I don’t feel completely American or completely European. There are good parts to both but you sometimes have the uneasy feeling that you’re neither one nor the other.

Neither a caterpillar nor a butterfly, you’re more a “caterfly” or maybe it’s a “butterpillar.” You’re a strange fellow, at any rate.

One day as I thought about the life of Joseph something hit me full force. Joseph had a similar problem. You know the story. His jealous siblings had sold him into slavery and he had lived in Egypt many years. Through a process, God made him the second ruler of the land.

Do you remember when his brothers came to Egypt looking for food and didn’t recognize him? He invited them to eat and then we see a strange dining situation—three different tables in the same room. Though Joseph was their master, the Egyptians wouldn’t eat with him because of their prejudice against other races. His Hebrew brothers thought he was an Egyptian, I suppose, and the two don’t mix at the table, so they’re in another part of the room.

And there’s old lonely Joseph—neither fully Egyptian nor fully Hebrew in the same way as before–all by himself. Kind of sad isn’t it? No, not really, because God used this “outsider” to save both the Egyptians and the Hebrews in the famine which had begun to sink it’s claws into the land.

Fact is, someone had to sacrifice so that others could be saved. Joseph became like the Lord Jesus when he became a stranger in a foreign land to save his family. Jesus left the familiar glories of heaven to walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. He did it to save us.

God asks us to do the same thing. If you want to be full of yourself, you’re probably not going to be comfortable as a Christian. We’re full of Him and His will for our lives. I see people like Joseph all the time. They give up the easy way to reach out to hurting kids, spend time with lonely old-agers, share the good news with neighbors who don’t look like them, invest a ton of time in the thing they feel God has called them to do, and, and, and …

And it’s true that they don’t get to reap all the goodies that this world offers. They’re not from here anyway.

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:13-16, NIV)

Sure Joseph gave some things up to obey the Lord, but he received so much in return. He saved his family; God promoted him in his adopted land; he saw his daddy again; and he received the double part of his father’s inheritance as the descendants of his sons, Ephraim and Manesseh, became full-fledged tribes in Israel.

It’s scary to be different—but it’s worth it!

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