Several weeks ago, I had to deal with a problem with the audio system in one of the five conference rooms we have at Karimu. When one of the cordless microphones was in use, a wretched static noise would obscure the speaker’s voice. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. It posed a distraction that interfered with communication.
The other two handheld mics were fine. Two headset mics produced even more noise. Nothing that my colleague or I did had any effect. We called in our local audio consultant. He was equally befuddled, frequently muttering to himself, “Seltsam!“. He double-checked the antennas; he reexamined the frequencies. Eventually, he packed up the works so that he could test it all in his own shop. Later, he sent everything to the manufacturer for diagnosis.
These details are somewhat beside the point. (But remember, I work now to the side of the point.) These rooms and their audio systems help people who have come from all over the world to meet together. A person does not travel great distances only to be stymied by static and noise.
At Wycliffe, we and our partners do go to great lengths to eliminate such interference. We visit nooks and crannies on this earth to listen to people we didn’t know speak languages that have never been written down. We spend years, even decades, working with those same people to decide how to write their language and to discover those who have a talent for reading and for teaching others. We painstakingly and lovingly work with them to transmit the good news of God’s kingdom in words and speech that bring the message clearly to their eyes and ears for the first time.
A fellow by the name of Jesus once put interference this way as he described the results of a farmer’s sowing seed: “Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.” (Mark 4:7, NLT) Later, he explained: “The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.” (Mark 4:18-19, NLT) It looks like some things don’t change, even after 2,000 years.
For our poor microphones, the interference came from two places: internal settings in the receivers, and a device installed in the same cabinet that has little connection to the audio system. For people without God’s message in their own language—or at least in one they know very, very well—interference comes from an unclear understanding of other languages. Even when we do receive God’s word, other things in our environment compete for and interfere with our attention and devotion. At least, that’s according to that Jesus fellow, if you can believe him.
Our victim of interference. The main culprit? That whatsit in the middle with the bright button.
The next time you hear static from loudspeakers or sense that something is getting in the way of your WiFi, I want you to remember the people who suffer from language getting in the way of their hearing and understanding God’s message. While you’re waiting for a good, strong signal to return, will you please pray for such people to receive that message clearly?
(This is the part where you say, “Roger Wilco.” Thank you!)