I traveled to the city of Jangaon in India this summer. It’s in the new state of Telangana, about 50 miles from Hyderabad (population about 7 million). I went with an organization called Evangelizing India for Christ, started by former CIU professor Dr. Richard Belcher. A CIU alumnus, Tom Keller, was making his seventh trip to India went with me.
Our task was mainly to train about 90 pastors. I taught biblical interpretation over four days. I began by discussing the importance of interpreting Scripture and explaining the process. Then I provided some general principles for interpretation (like paying attention to context). In the final two days, I taught on interpreting specific genres of Scripture: Gospels, Letters, Parables, Law, Poetry, and Wisdom. All of this teaching was through a translator. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew that I was doing God’s work and that people would be happier and more relaxed if they knew that God is with them. I know I did have a translator, but even with a translator things could get a little tricky. The teachings were going to be held in an orphanage. I knew that it was my best interest and it was their best interest to learn and understand the preaching I was going to give to them.
It can be very difficult to know if what you are teaching (in any context) is being understood by the students, but especially in a different culture and all the more when someone else is translating your words. There’s always a doubt about the accuracy of the translation (though I believe my translator did an excellent job). Finally, you never know if your illustrations make any sense in a radically different context.
As my teaching time ended, I was a little down. While several of the pastors explained that they now understood the importance of paying close attention to context, two comments stood out. One pastor said that he had a seminary degree but never learned anything about interpreting Scripture. He was very excited to put into practice what he had learned. Another pastor said that he had always chosen “random” verses and preached on them. Now he realized that he needs to pay attention to the context of the verses and he wanted to try preaching through books instead of selecting random verses. This was encouraging, indeed!
Two days later I heard the children singing songs again, so I peeked around the corner to watch them. They also heard my preaching, and I was very happy about it! One of the ministry leaders came over and asked me to deliver a message again. The children would be very happy to hear it again.