I had been called to a “bush church”, along with some African church leaders, to meet with the leadership there to try and sort out some real difficulties. Not Bible teaching difficulties but relationships between individuals. This intra-leadership difficulty was affecting the life of the Christians as a whole and something had to be done.
The meeting was quite tense. The problem was identified and suggestions given to help resolve the issue. One of the local church deacons was very outspoken and belligerent. It seemed that in no way was he going to accept the counsel – and, in the process it seemed obvious that he himself was the problem. His name was Samsoni (Sampson) and, even though he was of slight stature, his attitude conveyed otherwise. As the meeting progressed it became obvious to him that all the others accepted the counsel, that he was alone in opposition, so he acquiesced. The meeting was closed with much prayer that the Lord would heal the issue and that peace and God’s blessing would be evident in the church ministry there.
An afternoon meal had been prepared for us. We all filed over to the evangelists house and were ushered into one of the rooms where the food would be brought to us. In it came – ugali (corn-meal mush), rice and chicken, greens. Man, what a feast!
The deacon who had caused the trouble was the one who brought in the big platter of rice and chicken. Trying to lighten the atmosphere after the long tense meeting, I said in the Sukuma language, “This rooster won’t crow again”. The deacon got very angry, put the platter down and muttering to himself stormed out the door. He did not come in to eat with the rest of us and I wondered what I had done.
After the meal, before we got on the road to go home, I went to speak to the evangelist to try and find out what the problem was that I seemed to have caused. He told me – and yes, it was my fault though I had unknowingly walked into it.
Sukuma custom gives a child an “in house” name at birth. Usually it has something to do with circumstances surrounding the birth. This church deacon had been named “nghugulume” (rooster), probably because a rooster crowed at the time of his birth. Unknowingly, as he brought in the platter of chicken, my attempt at levity in the Sukuma language had hit home. He thought my comment was directed at him because of his outspokenness during the meeting. He assumed I meant he was “well silenced” and his voice would be like the chicken on the food platter – silenced for good.
My next act was to seek him out and apologize for my insensitivity. At first he was very reticent to accept my explanation and apology but, as we talked further, his attitude changed.Over time became a very close friend; his home was always open to me for a “cup of tea”; he was a great help in church administrative work throughout the church district. And, the local church was blest by the Lord in its fellowship and ministry.
Lesson learned! Do your best your best to understand nuances of local language before you try to govern the flow of conversation.