From the Parent of a Missionary
In 1983, after spending a school year at Rick’s college, I returned home to await the arrival of my mission call. I still remember the day I open my call. That day is like any of those important days in your life when things change drastically, something new comes into your life, a fantastic event; you just remember it. All the detail, the emotions, the place, it is a right there, like yesterday.
I was sitting in the breakfast nook of my home at 2311 Easton Drive in Richland, Washington. My Mom was standing over my left shoulder reading along with me. As I opened the letter the first thing I saw was two words in the top right corner of the letter, “Korean Speaking.” My heart jump as I informed everyone I was going to Korea. Luckily, my mother had actually read the letter and quickly interrupted and said, “No your not, your going to Los Angeles!”
Wow, stay in the U.S. but learn a new language. As I thought about that, I wondered if I would even learn to speak. How could there be enough Koreans in LA to have to speak Korean all the time. I would soon find out that there were over 500,000 Koreans in LA and the surrounding areas. Plenty of Koreans. I would fly to Provo to spend just over 2 months learning Korean, 60+ days, no where near enough time.
You arrive in the MTC and immediately start talking your language whether you know it or not. The first thing they taught us how to say translated to “May I have permission to speak in English?” I remember using that sentence a lot. I was fairly young in the Church, having only been baptized a few years earlier as a 16 year old. I did not have an understanding of what the Gift of Tongues and how it worked. I just blindly did what I could to speak Korean, act Korean, read, write, all of it. I was eager and excited to learn a new culture and language. I think even eating the kimchi helped me speak better.
Little did I know that learning Korean from an American gave you an understanding of the sentence structure, expanded your vocabulary, learned how to read and write, but you did not know how to listen to Korean.
They talk fast, real fast. I think I caught like two words in the first day I was there, and that was from the companion I had, who was Korean but grew up in the US, Elder David Kang. I would listen so hard my head would hurt and after 30 minutes of my companion teaching, the only way I knew we were teaching the gospel was by watching Elder Kang turn the pages of our flip chart.
It was about 4 months into the mission that I remember walking out of an appointment and realizing that I actually understood everything and was able to answer questions. I was not sure how it happened, but there it was, I could speak Korean. I then got an overwhelming desire to speak like Koreans, not like an American talking Korean, but like a Korean. I wanted the long gutteral emphatic sounds, the up and down intonations. I wanted to be able to speak in the high language and the friendly language, it was a very strong desire. I am ashamed to say that I do not recall praying to be better at the language, but I was definitely being blessed with a desire for and an understanding of the language.
Toward the end of my service, I was dreaming in Korean, speaking with ease, had a Korean “accent,” used the body language and the intonations; I had been blessed. In 18 months, I had come to speak Korean, even though I lived in Los Angeles. 18 months, I am still amazed and blessed.
Now my son is serving. Much better prepared than I, speaking a language he has studied in school for 5 years, and living in the country. But still, as stated in his letters, he is depending on the gift of tongues to be able to teach the people of Guatemala. That is why the gift works, because of the importance of the work. It is not about Justin learning Spanish, but about the people of Guatemala learning the gospel.