Bridging Cultures for Christ

We are vacationing in Texas with family and friends and have had recent opportunities to use Google Translate. One was at the Walmart in the Austin area and another was at the Holiday Inn in Granbury. This free translation service is so handy to access through a smart phone and it immediately enhances communication!

When we checked into our Granbury motel, I mentioned to management at the front desk that we would not be needing full room service during our brief two-night stay. We customarily, in such cases, just change out our washcloths and towels. Later in the day, I saw the housekeeping lady at the end of the hall. When I tried to speak to her about our preferences, she immediately replied in broken language, “No Habla Ingl├ęs!”

Credit: Mohamed Hassan

The woman held her index finger up to signify that she needed one moment. She then opened an app on her cell phone and handed it to me. The English-Spanish translator was ready to use. I spoke into the microphone, “We do not need housekeeping in room 201” and handed it back to her. She listened intently to the translation with a big smile on her face. What she did next surprised and delighted me as she held her closed hand out to fist-bump me as a gesture confirming understanding and appreciation.

When I came to Texas in the late seventies, I was given an opportunity to join a class in our Granbury church that was offering Spanish to any member that wanted to learn the language. Dr. C. G. Carter, a retired director of missions, served as the teacher. I bought the text and a dictionary only later to drop out of the class. I made up an excuse that I did not have the time due to my seminary studies and family responsibilities. I have looked back with regret many times over the years that I did not follow through on that commitment.

According to 2020 census data, the state of Texas has 11.3 million Hispanic residents out of a total population of thirty million. Throughout the United States, 18.5 percent are Hispanic or Latino. Data for my home state of Illinois shows that 17.5 percent of the 12.5 million total population is Hispanic/ Latino, and that 28.8 percent of that population resides in Chicago. This has become an ever-increasing trend and makes it even more important to know how to communicate with Hispanics in their native language.

Using a digital translator is a useful tool in communicating with others who are outside of our native language, but it is no substitute for the real thing! We have a French-English speaking family. My wife’s aunt, sister and two sons along with  their families all speak French. While I took a year of theological French in seminary, it is of little use in day-to-day conversation. Once again, I regret that I am not able to communicate with our new niece and nephew as I would like!

Many in Europe are multilingual. My late French mother-in-law was proficient in French, English and German. This proficiency is a common occurrence. I do know that many American students within both public and private systems are also taking various language classes in their programs and study curricula. One of our gifted middle school grandsons, Klay, is taking Italian in class and teaching himself French. Ben and Cam, our Texas grandsons, have taken multiple years of Spanish since eighth grade. Ben, who is college bound this fall, worked as a Walmart associate during his High School years, and was often called on to translate for customers!

The United States has historically been a melting pot of many ethnic populations. This fact, along with a global economy, makes the matter of diversity an everyday normal for our next generation of young leaders. It is obvious to me that these bright and intelligent young people will need to be proficient in more than one language to achieve their highest levels of success.

Verbal communication is such an important part of bridging cultures. The Lord Jesus was multilingual and spoke Aramaic as his native language. He was also proficient in at least the other two biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. Scholars say that is it likely that Jesus was conversant in other tongues as well. Paul, the great missionary and Apostle, spoke Koine (Common) Greek as his first language. As a Jew and Pharisee, he could read, write, and fluently speak Hebrew.  

Paul was a world traveler and shared the gospel of Christ with many who spoke various languages from diverse cultures. This great communicator and ambassador for Christ said this about language, “I would rather speak five words that can be understood than ten thousand exotic words… That way I could have a role in teaching others.” (1 Corinthians 14:19, TPT).

I appeal to fellow believers in Christ, "Let’s relate to others in understandable ways." May God equip and empower us to clearly communicate the good news every time we have the opportunity in both our words and actions.

The Lord has given this mission mandate and assurance to His followers, “As you go into all the world, preach openly the wonderful news of the gospel to the entire human race!” (Mark 16:15). “And never forget that I am with you every day, even to the completion of this age.” (Matthew 28:20, TPT).

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,

active churchman and
doting grandparent.


  1. Very important, our grandson-in-law teaches Spanish while his wife teaches English to all who know none. So far I have not learned snybSpanish


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