Faith and My Fear of a Foreign Language

The following events have pretty much been spread throughout my life . . .

In my life I’ve had two GREAT fears–one was math and the other was learning to speak a foreign language.  As for language, I even had a problem with learning my own language, English!  In middle school I would have to get up in front of the class and on the blackboard “diagram” all the parts of a sentence.  I would have rather faced off a pack of wild, rabid, snarling and snapping wolves than to diagram a sentence in front of the class!  I felt like all those comma splices and dangling whatevers were gonna kill me!

To make matters worse, my English teacher in middle school was also the Spanish teacher.  The first year in English class when she would get upset with me, she would yell at me in Spanish and make me stay after school in her Spanish classroom.  The next year when I had to take Spanish and she would get upset with me, she would yell at me in English and make me stay after school in her English classroom.  As a result, I developed this fear/hate relationship with language–including my own.

So it was with fear and trembling that I stood up from my knees after praying while at the Bible college I was attending in Canada, with the thought that the Lord wanted me to go to my state college back in the States and study Chinese!!  I knew little to nothing about China.  I wasn’t even sure where it was located.  That was because I was not a good student in elementary school where I should have learned this in geography class.

The next day I was in the lobby of the administration building and remembered the large map of the world they had framed on the wall.  Walking over to it, I thought I would see exactly where China was located.  I stood in front of the map looking at the line boundary marking out the location of the country.  In an instant, the whole country suddenly turned into Chinese faces; I was seeing the Chinese from the waist up all crowded within the borders of China.  They were crying, wringing their hands, and they looked confused, not knowing what to believe; they looked hopeless and full of despair.  The image was so sudden and so intense I stepped back and then looked to see if anyone else saw what I was seeing.  Nobody was staring at the map, and the emotion was too intense for me, so I had to walk away and then began wondering if I was going nuts seeing stuff!

That happened near the end of the spring semester; shortly after that, we left Canada to return to my home state.  Not long after, I stopped by to see my mom to tell her I would be taking Mandarin Chinese that fall quarter at the nearby state college.  She started crying!  She told me that the day I was born while still in the hospital, she felt the Lord impress upon her that I would be a missionary to China and that my middle name David was not from my father’s middle name of David.  Instead, my middle name was from David Olsen, a missionary that had been martyred in China in the 1940s.  I was speechless, and she sat there crying happy tears.

In the fall quarter, my first day of Chinese class was okay, and I was given the Chinese name Ni Wei Li.  I also discovered, unlike all other languages, Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet!  You basically have to learn one Chinese character for each word.  Thankfully, I survived the first day.  The next few days things were warming up as we started learning Chinese sounds and words.  My fear/hate language thing was on the rise inside me.  I was only there because I felt the Lord wanted me there.  The next week terror was settling in because this was when we were to start answering her questions in Chinese in front of everyone!  There were thirty students in my  class, and I sat near the front on the far side–far from where she started the questioning.  She methodically worked her way from student to student, row by row.  She came to my row, and I broke out into a sweat.

Working her way down my row, she reached the person behind me–I was next.  Fear, fright, and flight all kicked in at once, and I jumped up out of my seat and ran to the back door.  “Ni Wei Li, where are you going?” called my professor.  I looked at her, stuck my finger to a tooth and told her I had a dentist appointment!  I lied.  Walking down the hall away from the classroom, I said, “Lord that was terrible; I’m never going back!!!”  And for two weeks I was in turmoil not wanting to go back but struggling with the feeling that that Lord wanted me there.  I went back on a Friday.  The professor had already figured out what had happened.  During that class, the professor comes over and stands beside me with her hand on my shoulder.  “Class, class, I want your attention!”  All the students stopped writing and looked up at the two of us.   (to be continued . . . )

Copyright © 2010 by William D. (Nick) Nichols   [Part 1 of 2]

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