I can still remember walking out to Sadu’s field. It happened to be a misty morning which made it cooler than most. I knew that the West African heat would come soon enough though. I had always thought of myself as an exrovert, but living in an African village revealed that I wasn’t as out going as I had imagined. Being around certain people could make or break my own level of interaction. One of those people that I could connect easily with was my language helper, Sadu. I’m thankful that God gave me this man to be my friend.

First, let me explain what this language helper thing is all about. Cross cultural church planting is dependent on clear communication. Church planters have a message to communicate and that message is the gospel. The gospel is one of those things that can be really simple and yet very complex. As believers move from the milk of the word (1 Pt. 2:2) to the solid food for the mature (Heb. 5:14), our language increases in complexity. The apostle Peter even thought so (2 Pet. 3:16). To do this cross culturally means we need to know language and culture well. The best way to do this is to learn from those who have been born and raised in their language. Sometimes it looks like sitting down with language helpers to do specific language lessons. Even better though, is to experience life with them.

Sadu was my language helper and a few weeks ago I heard that he passed away. Since the news, I have thought a lot about what I learned from him. I wanted to share three things that I learned from Sadu that can benefit anyone.

How to listen:
Living in our African village, I discovered that decisions were made by a small group of village leaders. These men were highly respected and had this role by family connection or from their status through work. Sadu was the eldest son of the village’s founding family. I can still remember sitting under the stars with the men of the village in deliberation of a village issue. I could see Sadu quietly listening under the glow of the moon light. I was waiting for him to say something. He was never the first to speak. But, at just the right time, he would boldly and forcefully give his point of view. I didn’t always get all that he was saying, but I did take away one thing. Listen first.

Stories are powerful:
I spent hundreds of hours with Sadu talking and listening to him speak. Most days I would start by asking what he had done that day. From that, I never knew where the time would take us. Stories would come out about hunting, monkeys or buying a bike. I was often riveted and confused by his stories and would spend many more hours poring over his words that I had recorded. I loved hearing his stories and my imagination would go wild. Laying my head down at night I could only imagine what West Africa would have been like when lions still roared in the distance and giant trees still stood tall. I have never lost the wonder and power that comes through stories.

Life is short:
I always thought that I was going to get back and see Sadu. I left the village in October of 2006 with plans to return soon. I never would have imagined that life, work, money, ebola and all kinds of other reasons would come in the way. I guess I could have made it happen, but it didn’t. Each day Sadu grew older and so did I. The years that I had in the village would be the only memories that I would have with him. His death reminds me that life is short and that the days and the years go by quickly. I need to be reminded often that my life is short and I only have one to live. Make every day count.

There are many things that Sadu taught me, but these are a few of the biggest. My hope is that he is now sitting in the presence of Jesus Christ. I sat through months of Bible teaching where he was listening and thinking about all that God has done through history. I can remember him saying often that he enjoyed and appreciated all the teaching that he did hear.