Friday, December 30, 2005

Join the Band

I'd say that I can understand about 99.9 percent of any given communication in the English language... Over the last couple of years, it could be estimated that I've worked up my fluency in the Dutch language to somewhere between 90 and 95 percent... This week, I've learned that I can understand a surpring amount of German -- possibly even 60 to 70 percent... When it comes to Spanish or Italian, my linguistic proficiency is probably more in the range of 5 percent... And then when it comes to understanding Polish, Romanian, or Russian, I'd have to say that my comprehension is easily less than 1 percent... I'm fascinated by the mechanics of language, and I've had ample opportunity to observe the intricacies of international communication throughout the course of the past three days in Amsterdam.

A conference center in the middle of the old city has become a collecting point for Christians all across Europe this week, as Zolder50 helps to host a unique event called Awaken 2005... This "first international conference for Europeans involved with the Great Commission Association of Churches" represents the dreams, the hopes, the prayers, and the preparations of many... And indeed, it's been encouraging to see old friends from across the Continent, learn from the Bible through truly gifted communicators, and celebrate exhuberant times of music and worship.

But with men and women from Albania, America, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, and Ukraine, I've been most impacted by the way that interaction has been affected -- and even more so by the way that interaction has been unaffected -- by linguistic barriers.

For me, I believe one of the most powerful moments of the conference was when a Ukrainian accordian player sat in on a worship set with the Zolder50 band. He had been invited to take the stage for a light-hearted stroll through the classic accordian melodies of each country represented at the conference -- a rather corny bit, honestly, but very spirited and fun. Then after the brief interlude was finished, the worship band began to play, the conference participants began to sing, and I lost track of the Ukrainian accordian player in my own sense of reflection and musical prayer to God. With my head bowed and my eyes closed, I was singing along with the mixed mass of Europeans, when my ears perked at the sound of the accordian blending in with the drums, guitars, and voices of the Amsterdammers providing the primary musical leadership. Filling in around the melody beautifully, the sound of the Ukrainian accordian player filled in the reality of what I was experiencing as a son of God worshipping with my brothers and sisters from across the Continent... And I actually began to weep as the room shared in song to our God and King.

Later on, it was equally compelling to sing an old praise song -- "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" -- trading languages with each repetition of the song. The screen flashed lyrics in languages that I understood 99.9 percent, followed by languages that I understood 0.1 percent... And it was beautiful to understand the heart of God in drawing followers from every ethnicity, every nationality, every language -- across the varied landscape of Europe and beyond... My soul was filled with worship and gratitude for my Creator as I silently prayed: Dank u wel. Danke shoen. Grazie mille. Muchas gracias. Jenk uja. Speciba boshoi. Thank you...

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[NOTE: I also find it interesting to track the perspectives of others who have been involved in Awaken 2005. Noel and JR provide intriguing commentary from the perspective of people serving in the role as primary communicators. Todd and Sander write some interesting reflections on some of the dominant topics of the conference. And Billy offers a unique look at Awaken through the eyes of someone working hard to run the machinery of the conference... If you're interested in understanding more of what Awaken has really been like, follow the links and soak up the collective insight of other bloggers...]


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