Dozens of inquisitive brown eyes were fixed upon me, a clueless, solitary, Caucasian man. Struggling to find words appropriate to the situation, I merely said, “hi, I’m Matt.” Moments earlier I had been thrust into a standard 6 (6th grade) classroom in the village of Elengatta, Kenya. Having never taught anything more advanced than subtraction in any school setting, I was hoping for a bit of instruction. Unfortunately, my instructions were as underwhelming as my opening words: “Ask them questions, and they will ask you questions.” Attempting to follow these instructions, I asked the class, “What would you like to know about me?” I received nothing but stares as blank as the chalkboard behind me. I began to wonder how on earth I was going to be able to fill a day’s worth of class time. My only idea was to petition God for some kind of breakthrough to at least interact with these children. The awkward silence was broken by my haphazard explanation of America and its characteristics. After drawing a map that bore a closer resemblance to a flounder than to America, I sheepishly asked the class if they had any questions. To my delight, one boy raised his hand. He then said, “We are not getting you.” Turns out my Southern US brand of English is a far cry from the Kenyan version. Kenyans speak in a choppy, unsure sounding manner. With my drawn out vowels and shortened suffixes, I may as well have been speaking in Korean. After adjusting my speech to their understanding we had a great time with one another.
Through this instance I realized something profound. My communication to the children was out of my selfish desire for progress and for time to pass. Nothing was accomplished until I grasped that my teaching was fully for them. Our efforts to help, teach, or instruct others are completely futile when we have ourselves in mind. In removing yourself from consideration, you are allowed to wholly serve others. Even if we’re speaking the same language, a selfish motivation provides a barrier greater than any language can create.