During our years in Germany, at times I was asked to speak in different churches. This was far more demanding than everyday chats. My German was understandable in a personal conversation, but I was a grammatical cripple. The complexity of German was beyond me.
First, there are thirty-two forms of “the” (der, die, das and variants) and you have to choose the correct form depending on the role of the noun in the sentence.
Second, every noun has a gender: masculine, feminine or neuter, but I could see little logic behind this. For instance, skirt is masculine, wall is feminine and girl is neuter! You have to memorize what each one is, then figure out what case the noun is in and use the corresponding form of “the.”
Well, I just basically ignored this whole minefield of complexity and threw in whichever form came to mind. The people I conversed with understood this and readily grasped what I was trying to say, even if it did not fit exactly correctly. However, such an approach was not adequate for public speaking, so Barbara would translate for me.
She is a marvelous translator. She does it so easily, quickly, fluidly moving my words and thoughts from English to German. And she doesn’t just do a grammatical translation, but “Germanized” the concepts in the process. Really amazing.
At times we would speak in a small Turkish fellowship in a nearby city. The older folks spoke Turkish, while their children, who had grown up in Germany, did not. So I would speak in Turkish and Barbara would translate into German, again doing a wonderful job.
Near the end of our time in Germany, this group asked me just to preach in German. Since most of the attenders spoke German as their third, fourth or fifth language, my inexact grammar wasn’t a problem and we all shared a narrowness of vocabulary that kept us focused. They had no trouble grasping what I was saying.
Another role the Lord had for us was in the Baptist church where we had met Dr. Christian and Melanie. There had been problems brewing there for many years, and they boiled over shortly after we came.
As a result of these conflicts, there was need for a total change in leadership and I volunteered to be part of the new leadership council. This meant I had to function entirely in German!
If I could catch the gist of the discussion, then I could usually follow it, but it was a struggle, especially when the meetings went so late at night.
At one point I was asked to mediate a conflict, totally in German! While praying about this, the Lord gave me an idea for a framework, and as the discussion roiled and boiled, I was able to keep it within these guidelines with the Lord bringing a positive outcome. I was impressed what the Lord can do through such a weak vessel!