Communication Learning from a Toddler

Often, we find communicating across cultural barriers crippling. Fear, hesitation, or simple uncomfortability paralyzes us. Most of us have the desire but lack the boldness to communicate the story of God’s love to strangers, especially strangers who are different than us. Will they understand, will I be clear, will they think I am weird, or will I even make sense to them are simple questions we have that prevent us from stepping out and sharing Jesus with someone. This someone can live across the world in another culture altogether like what we experienced by living in Thailand for six years. Or this person can live across the street as an increasing immigration population moves into the US. How do we help people draw near to Jesus?

My observations come from parenting a toddler. As a blind father, I worry how she will communicate with me her wants and desires. Her words are few at two-years-old. She uses nonverbal communication to the best of her ability to let us know what she needs or to explain what happened.

My daughter learned that gestures don’t work the same with me. When she was younger, she tried to show me she was hungry and point to the food she wanted. Now, she takes me by the hand to the refrigerator. Then I ask her if she wants milk. She says, no. I point to another food, she says no. I point to the Goldfish. She says, yeah!! With pure excitement. She is thrilled that her daddy figured out what she was saying.

When she gets a new toy, she loves to come and take my hand, so she can lead me to the toy. She puts my hand on the toy. She loves when I get to enjoy her toys in my own way.

Still another example comes when she hears one of her favorite songs come onto the Itunes playlist. She grabs me by the hand and runs to the middle of the room. She starts moving my hand to say she wants to dance.

When she really wants to get her point across, she knows exactly what to do. As she is held in my arms, she will put both hands on my cheeks to turn my face to hers. She wants me to look her in the eye, so to speak. This way, she knows I am listening straight to her plea for ice cream, playing games, watching a movie, going to Nana’s house, or whatever she determinedly lets me know she wants.

When we want to communicate God’s love across cultural lines, our best approach is to be humble and find people where they are. Come to them, ask about their story, and start to learn their culture. We can show them Jesus better when we approach them in humble love, than if we expect them to come to where we are. My daughter doesn’t keep using nonverbal gestures to me hoping one day I will figure it out. No, she finds what way best communicates to me as quickly and naturally as possible. This is what we must do with our neighbors. What speaks to them? What can we do to build friendships, and thus create space for us to share about Jesus?

What do you find difficult in communicating with people from another culture?

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