Maintain Your Spiritual Health While Serving in a Foreign Field
“In my heart I treasure up your saying.”—PS. 119:11.
1-3. (a) Whatever our circumstances, what should be our priority? (b) What specific challenges do those learning a new language face, and what questions does this raise? (See opening picture.)
THOUSANDS of Jehovah’s Witnesses today are taking an active part in the fulfillment of the vision to declare the good news “to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Rev. 14:6) Are you among those who are learning another language? Are you perhaps serving as a missionary or a need-greater in a foreign land, or have you begun attending meetings in a foreign-language congregation in your homeland?
2 As God’s servants, all of us need to give priority to our spiritual health and that of our family. (Matt. 5:3) At times, though, we may find it difficult to engage in meaningful personal study because of our busy routine. But those serving in a foreign field face yet other challenges.
3 In addition to learning a new tongue, those serving in a foreign field also need to make sure that they regularly feed their heart with solid spiritual food. (1 Cor. 2:10) How can they do that if they are unable to grasp fully the language spoken in the congregation? And why should Christian parents make sure that God’s Word reaches their children’s hearts?
A THREAT TO SPIRITUAL HEALTH
4. What could pose a threat to our spirituality? Give an example.
4 The inability to grasp God’s Word in a foreign language can pose a real threat to our spiritual health. In the fifth century B.C.E., Nehemiah showed concern when he learned that some children among the Jews who had returned from Babylon could not speak the Hebrew language. (Read Nehemiah 13:23, 24.) These children were actually losing their identity as God’s servants because they could not fully understand the meaning of God’s Word.—Neh. 8:2, 8.
5, 6. What have some parents serving in a foreign-language field come to realize, and why?
5 Some Christian parents serving in a foreign-language field have come to realize that their children’s interest in the truth has waned. Because of not fully understanding what was said at the meetings, the children were not really touched by the spiritual program that was being presented at the Kingdom Hall. “When talking about spiritual matters,” says Pedro, who moved his family to Australia from South America, “the heart and emotions should be involved.”—Luke 24:32.
6 When we read in a foreign tongue, our heart may not be as involved as it would be in our own language. Moreover, the inability to communicate well in another language can be mentally and spiritually draining. So while keeping alive our desire to serve Jehovah in a foreign-language field, we do well to safeguard our spiritual health.—Matt. 4:4.
THEY SAFEGUARDED THEIR SPIRITUAL HEALTH
7. How did the Babylonians attempt to assimilate Daniel into their culture and religion?
7 When Daniel and his companions were exiled, the Babylonians tried to assimilate them into their culture by teaching them “the language of the Chaldeans.” Moreover, the court official in charge of their training gave them Babylonian names. (Dan. 1:3-7) The name given to Daniel referred to Bel, the main divinity of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar likely wanted to impress Daniel with the idea that his God, Jehovah, had been subjected by Babylon’s god.—Dan. 4:8.
8. What helped Daniel to maintain his spiritual health while living in a foreign land?
8 Although Daniel was offered food to eat from the king’s delicacies, he “resolved in his heart” that he would not “defile himself.” (Dan. 1:8) Because he kept studying “the sacred books” in his mother tongue, he maintained his spiritual health while living in a foreign land. (Dan. 9:2, ftn.) Thus, some 70 years after his arrival in Babylon, he was still known by his Hebrew name.—Dan. 5:13.
9. As reflected in Psalm 119, what effect did God’s Word have on the writer of the psalm?
9 The writer of Psalm 119 found strength in God’s Word to stand out as different. He had to put up with the scornful attitude of some members of the royal court. (Ps. 119:23, 61) Yet, he allowed God’s sayings to touch his heart deeply.—Read Psalm 119:11, 46.
MAINTAIN YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH
10, 11. (a) As we study God’s Word, what should be our aim? (b) How can we reach our goal? Illustrate.
10 Although we may be very busy with theocratic and secular responsibilities, we all need to make time for personal study and family worship. (Eph. 5:15, 16) Our aim, though, should not be simply to cover a certain number of pages or solely to prepare comments to participate at meetings. We want to make sure that we allow God’s Word to reach our heart and strengthen our faith.
11 To reach that goal, we should find a balance between keeping in mind the needs of others when studying and reflecting on our own spiritual needs. (Phil. 1:9, 10) We must recognize that when we prepare for the ministry, for the meetings, or for a talk, we may not necessarily apply what we read to ourselves. To illustrate: Although a chef has to taste dishes before serving them, he cannot live merely on the food he samples. If he wants to remain healthy, he has to prepare nutritious meals for himself. Similarly, we should strive to nourish our heart with spiritual food that fills our personal needs.
12, 13. Why do many of those serving in a foreign-language field find it beneficial to study regularly in their mother tongue?
12 Many among those serving in a foreign-language field find it beneficial to study the Bible regularly in the ‘language of their birth.’ (Acts 2:8, ftn.) Even missionaries recognize that to remain strong in their foreign assignment, they cannot rely merely on the basic understanding of the spiritual food they get at the meetings.
13 Alain, who has been learning the Persian language for about eight years, admits: “When I prepare for meetings in Persian, I tend to focus on the language itself. Since my mind is mainly involved in an intellectual exercise, my heart is not necessarily touched by the spiritual thoughts I am reading. That is why I regularly set aside time to study the Bible and other publications in my mother tongue.”
REACH YOUR CHILDREN’S HEARTS
14. Of what should parents make sure, and why?
14 Christian parents do well to make sure that God’s Word gradually reaches their children’s minds and hearts. After serving in a foreign-language field for over three years, Serge and his wife, Muriel, noticed that their 17-year-old son lacked joy in theocratic activities. “It annoyed him to go out in the ministry in another language, whereas before he loved preaching in his native language, French,” says Muriel. “When we realized that this situation had hindered our son from making spiritual advancement,” explains Serge, “we decided to move back to our former congregation.”
15. (a) What factors might influence parents to move back to a congregation that uses the language their children best understand? (b) What admonition does Deuteronomy 6:5-7 give to parents?
15 What factors might influence parents to move back to a congregation that uses the language their children best understand? First, they should determine whether they really have enough time and resources to instill love for Jehovah in their children while at the same time teaching them a foreign tongue. Second, they may notice in their children a lack of interest in spiritual activities or in the foreign-language field in which they are serving. In such circumstances, Christian parents might consider moving back to a congregation that uses the language their children best understand until their children take a firm stand for the truth.—Read Deuteronomy 6:5-7.
16, 17. How have some parents managed to train their children spiritually while in a foreign field?
16 On the other hand, some parents have found ways to instruct their children in their native tongue while attending meetings at a foreign-language congregation or group. Charles, a father of three girls ranging from 9 to 13 years of age, attends a Lingala-speaking group. He explains: “We made the decision to conduct study sessions and family worship with the children in our native language. But we also include practice sessions and games in Lingala so that they can learn this language while having fun.”
17 Kevin, a father of two girls, aged five and eight, has taken measures to compensate for their lack of understanding at meetings held in a foreign language. He explains: “My wife and I have a personal study with both girls in French, their mother tongue. We also set the goal of attending a meeting in French once a month, and we take advantage of our vacations to visit conventions held in our native language.”
18. (a) What principle found at Romans 15:1, 2 can help you to determine what will be in the best interests of your children? (b) What suggestions have other parents offered? (See endnote.)
18 Of course, it is up to each family to determine what will be most beneficial for the spiritual health of their children. (Gal. 6:5) Muriel, quoted earlier, admits that she and her husband had to sacrifice their preferences for the spiritual benefit of their son. (Read Romans 15:1, 2.) In retrospect, Serge thinks that they made the right decision. He states: “From the time we moved back to a French-speaking congregation, our son blossomed spiritually and got baptized. He is now serving as a regular pioneer. He is even considering returning to a foreign-language group!”
LET GOD’S WORD REACH YOUR HEART
19, 20. How can we show our love for God’s Word?
19 In his love, Jehovah has made his Word, the Bible, available in hundreds of languages so that ‘all sorts of people may come to an accurate knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Tim. 2:4) He knows that humans can better fill their spiritual need when they read his thoughts in the language of their heart.
20 Whatever our personal circumstances, though, we should be determined to feed our heart with solid spiritual food. By regularly studying the Scriptures in the language of our heart, we will maintain our spiritual health and that of our family and we will show that we truly treasure God’s sayings.—Ps. 119:11.
^  (paragraph 5) Names have been changed.
^  (paragraph 18) For a discussion of Bible principles that can help your family, see the article “Raising Children in a Foreign Land—The Challenges and the Rewards” in the October 15, 2002, issue of The Watchtower.