There was a time God used a travel-size bottle of shampoo to connect me to language learning.
In May 2015, my husband and I went on a vision trip to Japan. We were toward the beginning of our support raising process to be long-term missionaries there.
During our stay in Tokyo, I ran out of shampoo, so I stopped at a local store by the train station to purchase some more. I found a small bottle and saw that the price tag in yen appeared to be roughly $1 USD. Not a bad price for travel shampoo I thought. Happily, I took my place in line, feeling more competent than I should have. When my turn arrived, though, I didn’t understand anything the cashier said to me. I proudly gave him my yen to pay for my cheap bottle of shampoo.
Then it happened. He stared at me, waiting, and I knew I had not given him enough money. I must have misread the price tag. In a panic, I blindly handed him more money, hoping the amount would cover it. I think I gave him the equivalent of $100 USD, and I could tell he was amused.
After taking my large handful of change, I read the receipt to find that I had spent the equivalent of $8 USD on a bottle of shampoo the size of my hand. A year later, I still have the bottle, now empty. I just can’t bring myself to part with it.
That overpriced bottle of shampoo taught me how important it is to learn the native language if I really want to communicate on a heart level with someone, much less hold a conversation about the price of shampoo.
I am only a beginner in Japanese. To paint a better picture, I am at the toddler level. It is a very humbling experience.
Japanese is considered one of the hardest languages to learn in the world. (See the infographic below). But I’ve realized that learning Japanese is how I show the Japanese I love them. If I come to Japan assuming that everyone I encounter will speak English to me, then I’ve failed. I haven’t humbled myself for them. I’ve made them serve me.
Love is laying my life down — laying my pride down. It’s having those “I can’t learn this!” moments but pressing on, whether I like it or not, because I’m serving them. I’m serving Him.
We don’t go through language learning to get to the “real ministry.”
Learning Japanese is ministry.
I can begin serving the Japanese now. With every character I write, every new word I learn, I am doing so for the glory of God.
Language Learning Infographic
TEAM missionaries go through extensive language learning as part of their long-term missionary service. Take a look at how learning Japanese compares to other languages.
Kaytlin and her husband Stephen are currently fundraising to continue language learning and ministry in Japan. You can help them cover the cost of language school by making a one-time donation here.