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Adventures With My Mother Tongue

First of all, I know I haven’t blogged in forever. Every time I attempt to blog regularly, I stop after a few posts because I feel I have no value to add to the overwhelming amount of Internet conversation. It seems like a hot topic emerges every week or so in the conservative evangelical world; and I never bother to write about them because there’s a slew of amazing people and ministries who always engage these topics. And do so more cogently and intelligently and winsomely and tactfully than I ever could (e.g. Al Mohler, Desiring God, TGC, etc). Also, my personal life is usually inconceivable monotonous and uneventful, not warranting much of an update either.

But in the past few weeks I’ve had some new adventures with my mother tongue. And it was a really funny incident today that made me want to share some of my recent experiences. A little background on my Chinese skills: I can speak the language fluently and effortlessly when it comes to conversational Chinese. But I’m not really able to have any conversations that require technical jargon of any sort (e.g. science, religion, etc). My reading/writing skills are also horribly deficient, but they’re rapidly improving now thanks to two recent additions in my life.

Though I became a Christian eight years ago, it was four years ago that I set foot inside a Chinese church for the first time. I remember so clearly the foreign feelings that flooded over me as I heard Scripture, prayer, worship, and preaching in Mandarin. I can’t explain the feeling at all…it’s just a jumble of emotions. I think this has partially to do with the fact that it is the language of “my people.” But this is in itself is a strange and complicated thing. My people? My earthly citizenship is in the United States of America, and yet because of my looks, I clearly don’t belong. But I don’t belong among the people I look like either. Couple the double-displacement with the fact I did not really identify with Chinese/Asian people at all for most of my life , instead denying my ethnicity and “pretending” to be white…and this issue is even more complicated. And yet, there is a unique emotion that I feel whenever my faith and my ethnic heritage collide.

But I think the emotions I feel go beyond the reasons pertaining to my specific ethnicity. I think part of it also has to do with the fact that we are nearing the day when every nation, tribe and tongue bows before the throne of the Father and of the Lamb to worship our God together for all of eternity, in all our diverse languages and ways. As one passionate about the glory of God among the nations and the gospel being preached to every ethne, I just get chills whenever I hear worship/prayer/Scripture/ preaching in any other language besides English (which, obviously, is “my” language). Because experiencing these God-focused, God-exalting things in other languages reminds me of those realities and to me is a foreshadowing and a tiny taste of what worship on the other side of eternity will be like. And it’s a day I perpetually long and groan for. So any reminder of that day just intensifies the groaning.

That was a long, rambling preface. A few weeks ago, a friend from church (AZ) discovered every ABC (American-Born Chinese) Christian’s dream: an English/Simplified Chinese/Pinyin Bible. Prior to that, I had periodically listened to Chinese audiobible. But I never imagined that I’d ever be able to read the Bible in Chinese, because I didn’t think that a Pinyin Bible could possibly exist. I’ve really enjoyed it, but I am sooo excruciatingly slow. Also, two weeks ago, after getting the Bible, I memorized Scripture in Chinese for the first time. And this was [shockingly] difficult. And it was very humbling, because memorizing Scripture has always been really easy for me. But it took me a whole week just to memorize the Beatitudes in Chinese. I had aimed to memorize all of Matthew 5 that week, but I only got through the Beatitudes. Both initial memorization and retention has been slow and difficult for me because so many of the words/phrases/expressions are completely foreign (hah!) to me. So a lot of times I’m trying to memorize things I don’t understand, which, of course, is way harder than memorizing what you do understand.

Since getting the Chinese Bible, I have also activated a pinyin keyboard on my phone.  So I’ve been posting intermittent Facebook/Twitter updates as well as texting in Chinese. Sometimes I do pick the wrong words, which is really embarrassing. But my character recognition is improving rapidly through doing this.

Another recent adventure concerning Chinese pertains to the fact that I was asked to speak for two weeks for a nearby Chinese church plant. Last week I primarily spoke in Mandarin, asking the translator they provided for her help when I didn’t know how to say something. Today, I decided to just speak in English and have complete translation. But something really funny happened – there was one part where I “accidently” spoke in Chinese. And my translator translated into English. We didn’t even realize what had happened, but the entire room burst into fits of laughter for several minutes. And someone made us aware of the fact that we had switched languages.


Leave a comment


  1. Love it! At least you didn’t say something embarrassing like someone else we know (ehem) =)


  2. alicej

     /  June 3, 2013

    so proud of you, jen!!


  3. Haha, I’m sure you’re doing great, Melissa! can’t wait to hear you speak Chinese 🙂

    Thanks for your encouragement, Alice! learning Chinese Christianese is very difficult….but well worth the effort ^_^


  4. John Tung

     /  August 6, 2014

    I can relate to the question of “Who are people?” when I became a Christian and entered a Chinese church after having submerged my Chinese identity in America.
    On another topic, there seems to be also an online version of the Chinese Bible with pinyin and English – though not Simplified Chinese – for those who would like to use as an occasional resource: http://www.chinese-bible.com/?mc=&searchlang=en&livre=01O&chapitre=1&verset=1&go=Ok&nb_versets=20&en=1&py=1&cn=1&langue_princip=en



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