During my recent trip to Honduras I encountered different dialects of the two languages I speak: English and Spanish. My difficulties, frustrations, and amusements in dealing with linguistic dialects paralleled my experience with the differences how faith in Christ was expressed by the people I met, lived with, and worked alongside of.
Linguistic differences were more entertaining than anything. To be honest, it took me about a week to acclimate to the Spanish dialect of the area where I worked, and even then there were a few people I couldn’t understand at all. Not understanding the slang used by locals led another interpreter to believe that there was someone going around one of the villages punching people in the head (“me pega la cabeza” is how they say that they have a headache). Being from the Midwest adrift in a sea of Southern twang and parlance I felt the need to defend the way I said certain words in English, especially “bag”, “roof”, and “ice”.
The dialects of Christianity that existed in the locals and volunteers I met during my trip were as diverse as the dialects of English one would encounter in the International Terminal of Atlanta Airport. I spent time with people who I would consider to be “ultra-conservative” (there was a point where I thought my head was going to explode if I had to sit through one more conversation about politics) and others who would be labeled “very liberal” (on one occasion the legalization of marijuana was being discussed over dinner). While I am certainly more comfortable with the latter dialect of Christianity, as its closer to my own, I was able to understand and respect both ends of the spectrum.
I need to remind myself that differences in faith, despite some of the frustrations they cause, don’t render others unintelligible or non-functional. One of the many beauties of Christianity is the fact that we don’t have to vote the same way, read the same translation of the Bible, or agree on which substances are ok to use and which ones are not. These are minor and unimportant issues that we devote too much of our time and emotions to.
What makes dialects mutually intelligible (and not separate languages) is that they share what’s ultimately important: not lexicons, grammar, or pronunciation, but an appreciation of the common ground shared and a commitment to understand one another. The differences add variety, beauty, humor, and excitement.
As Christians we share the most important thing ever: Christ Himself. Despite the differences in faith that I saw during my trip I saw God work in and through the volunteers uniting them in the common purpose of redeeming the world to what He intended it to be.