… on the power of a few simple words!

Scripture 1 Cor 14

But in a church meeting I would rather speak five understandable words to help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language. (1 Cor 14:19)

Whether you are reading this or listening to it, this talk comes with a health warning. There will be some audience participation!

Two months ago at this time, I read the epistle for the Feast of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-11, giving to us a description of the events which constitute the basis for the Feast.

Can I remind you briefly?

…suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

… the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language…

… we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”

The Message: A Sound Like a Strong Wind

… like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

 “They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!”

Whether the disciples were able to speak in all the languages of those gathered there that day, or whether it was a case of the latter being able to understand is almost immaterial, for they were able to hear about “the mighty works of God” … and understand.

So here are the five words I want to share with you:

Itye            You are

Atye           I am

Nining       How

Maber       Good

Apwoyo   Thank you 

If we had been in a classroom, I would have possibly allowed a little more drill and practice! Five simple words in Acholi, the language spoken by the majority of people in Gulu, alongside English. Easy to remember, no difficult pronunciation – in fact, a doddle! And yet, five words possessing between them an extraordinary power!

Let me explain…

A few months ago, we received a calling from God to go to Uganda to help the Ordinary Hero charity to build a kitchen for Bless a child, a small hostel for children undergoing HIV or cancer treatment and their carers. The call was overwhelming, irresistible, all-encompassing! When we heard Janine and Craig talk with such passion of their work in Gulu, we all knew what each other was thinking!

Not that this came without difficulties and challenges! Following a very uncomfortable return flight from New York in 2016, I thought Helen might never again board an aeroplane. Polly also had personal worries: the journey, self-doubt, meeting new people, food, being ill …  toilets! I had my own concerns about health too, not long before we were due to leave… too complicated to recount now, but culminating in a bout of serious back pain necessitating physiotherapy and even acupuncture!

We need not have worried about anything, as God was most definitely in this with us, every step of the way. Maybe I just lacked faith. For what was built here was much more than a kitchen and this was far beyond what we could have imagined. Nor did this happen as if by chance. The foundations for this had been laid several years ago when Craig first came to Uganda and assisted Shirley Crawford with various building projects. Janine joined later and injected her own passionate motivation and calling from God, to the extent of them selling up and moving out there during 2018. Does the scripture not say:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  (Matt 17:24)

As a Church, Trinity had already supported Shirley through the 1% Appeal some years ago by providing the funds for the construction of a much-needed bore-hole. A few years before that Shirley had also moved to Uganda following a long stint working at Woodhouse Grove, where I am still working part-time. The ties were already looking strong!

When we arrived on site that first Tuesday of our visit, the local team with us extra helpers first job was to re-site the kitchen, a simple lean-to structure with walls of corrugated tin. We then erected a wooded form-work or frame, attached strings, measured out our 3m2 space and a 0.5m wide trench on three-sides and started digging, with the aid of Maurice, otherwise known as the “JCB”, the mechanical digger and wondering at his pace and no little skill with the spade/hoe and in bare feet (what price risk assessment?).

Over the next 10 days, whilst we worked, laughed, joked, teased, I lugged bricks, aggregate, cement, laid bricks, rendered, painted, finished and with hardly a twinge in my back – in itself a complete miracle! Helen and Polly made numerous visits to clínics, hospitals, refuges, villages. Their work of ministry was astonishing! Helen said some of her happiest moments were those spent close to Mama Jennie, for whom the kitchen was being re-built, where they talked and sorted rice and prepared vegetables for the pot. Polly’s instinctive rushing over to comfort a young girl after her emotional singing performance on our visit to Christchurch Primary School, before all 645 students, staff and PTA was a special moment indeed.

We all learnt the importance of those 5 words for they mean so much more than just one word in English:

Apwoyo – thank you/how are you?/thanks for coming/thanks for talking to me/listening to me/for coming to see us and … rabbit!

 Itye nining – how are you?

 Itye maber – are you good, are you well, how are things going?

 Atye maber – the answer to the question above

For these words used together and accompanied by a treble handshake express warmth, friendliness, fellowship, care, concern, sharing, love. The response to their use by a Muzungu (white person) is absolutely incredible and the building block for any meaningful relationship. So we should never ever under-estimate the power of a few words spoken in a foreign language:

“I would rather speak 5 understandable words to help others …” 1 Cor 14:19

“Speak to someone in a language she or he understands and it goes to the head; speak to a person in her or his own language and it goes to the heart” (Nelson Mandela)

Peter Lambert – August 2019