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Learning another language gives him added ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Everyday life in the last years of the 20th century has become a multicultural experience.
Satellite television brings us events as they happen half a world away. Buying merchandise imported from other countries is routine. Computer users “chat” regularly with people in other countries. The nickname of the United States as a “melting pot” is increasingly evident as unfamiliar languages are heard regularly where once English was the only spoken communication.
At the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, materials are offered in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese. Customers who speak Spanish may discuss their need for materials with a Spanish-speaking customer service representative, and the multicultural leadership department provides both print and consultative resources for a denomination that is reaching out to increasingly multicultural communities.
While organized efforts to serve a range of cultural and language needs are becoming essential to providing ministry resources for the masses, some denominational employees are discovering how learning another language can enlarge opportunities for personal ministry.
Don Schlosser, for example, found a way to experience missions when he decided to learn Spanish to be a more effective volunteer musician for the Hispanic congregation of First Baptist Church of Nashville, Tenn.
A music design editor for the Sunday School Board’s music ministries department, Schlosser read an appeal in the church bulletin for someone who could sight-read music and play the piano for the church-sponsored, Spanish-speaking congregation.
Schlosser volunteered, seeing the opportunity as a way to be involved in missions while staying in the same church facility with his family.
Volunteer music leader Ramon Martinez is also director of the Sunday School Board’s multicultural leadership department. For a few Sundays, Martinez accommodated Schlosser’s language barrier by announcing the hymn numbers in Spanish and then giving them to Schlosser in English. But soon Schlosser’s “free ride” was over.
“Ramon told me he felt I would progress faster in learning Spanish if he did not translate for me,” Schlosser recalled recently.
Necessity is a great motivator. Schlosser, who had studied French in high school and German in college, began to study Spanish by taking an employee development course at the Sunday School Board.
And although today he has been working with the Hispanic choir for four years, he continues to improve his language skills by listening to tapes, following the dialog on Spanish language radio stations, using a bilingual Bible and reading books in Spanish. He gets to practice his vocabulary on Sundays and Wednesdays at church.
Though Schlosser is without question a model self-starter when it comes to language study, he is quick to admit his efforts are not always perfect.
“Once, someone complimented me on a new tie,” he said. “What I meant to reply was, ‘My wife bought it for me, and she has good taste.’ What I actually said was, ‘My wife bought it for me, and she tastes good.”
Another embarrassing moment occurred when Schlosser was translating for someone else and mispronounced a word. People in the congregation, wanting to help, correctly pronounced the word aloud. The result was a group correction in unison.
Schlosser said Spanish-speaking people have been “kind and pleasant” in enduring the times he has mis-spoken their language. Many come to him after a service and simply whisper the correct pronunciation in his ear.
Opportunities to use Spanish have expanded beyond First Baptist Church to include leading music during simultaneous revivals in Costa Rica.
Schlosser may be the most amazed at where a knowledge of Spanish has taken his life. He recalled sitting at the piano one Sunday and suddenly thinking, “Look where you are and what you are doing!”
Yet he adds, “I still feel so inadequate when I am reaching for words or when I can’t find the right conjugation of a verb.”
Despite the challenges, Schlosser’s love for “mission work” is evident in the way he describes the congregation’s “worship without pretense” and the fact many people worship with the congregation while they are living in Nashville and then go back to their homeland to share Christianity.
Some have suggested to Schlosser he may someday be called to missions work.
“I think I’m already doing missions,” he said, “and the Lord’s already opened a lot of doors.”

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis