The Power of Words

I spend at least 12 hours a week studying Greek. And yes, I’ve learned some-
and am thankful for what I’ve learned but WOW is it tough. I’ve always felt like I was pretty good at language learning, but learning Greek is like getting hit by a truck of language learning pride. It’s a complicated language, but of course not impossible and we are making progress “slowly- slowly” (as the Greeks would say). It’s remarkable the total triumph I feel if I am able to have a 3 sentence exchange with a stranger that we both understand. I’m able to trick people for about that long and then they carry on about something, my plan crumbles, and I have to confess I can’t actually understand them. What happens next is totally a learning process as well.  There’s 3 options. 1. They go, “Ah” And walk away. 2. They say “Ah” and then start speaking to me in English. Or 3. They say “Ah…” and then repeat the Greek message they are trying to get across more slowly, more loudly, and with more hand gestures. Option 1 crushes me every time. Option 2 is convenient sometimes, but often I get lost between being humbled and being humiliated. I have to admit to myself that they can speak to me perfectly in my language, but here I am in their country and  I ran out of words in 30 seconds.  Option three is delightful.
I have 2 friends that don’t speak any English at all: my neighbor, and my grocery store lady. But I love them and they love me and I’m so thankful for them. Neighbor cooks for me, makes sure I remember to take my coat, and always kisses me hello and goodbye. Grocery store lady is completely invested in my success in the grocery store, and therefore my livelihood/sanity. She walks the aisles with me showing me what’s on sale, and hands me the coupons for the day when I get there. Every now and then we can’t quiiiiite communicate what we are trying to say. For example its hard to act out “Which one of these is real butter?” or “Is this laundry soap or fabric softener” or “Do you know what Maple Syrup is?” If this happens she faithfully recruits someone to translate.
I just started volunteering to teach English at a support center for refugee women and children. The staff that work at the center are so special. They work so hard to create a safe and loving environment for these refugee women and children, and it is beautiful. They have developed something truly outstanding. I’m not even sure the staff at this support center realize how special they are. I’m so excited for the day when I can tell them, in Greek, how great of a jobI think they are doing.
I don’t have experience teaching adult women, or teaching English, so I was pretty nervous when the opportunity to teach one of the women’s classes came up. These women are Farsi and Arabic speakers, but they hope to become proficient in both Greek and English as they establish their new life in Europe. I tried to just channel what I thought was important so (no surprise if you know me at all) every lesson I make sure they learn at least one new feeling word. Happy, sad, confident, thankful, disgust, anxious, worried, excited etc. I ask them at the end of each class how they are feeling, or to use one of the new words in a sentence. They can make up a sentence about anything- they don’t have to talk about themselves if they don’t want to. But when these women express themselves… it is so very powerful. I am amazed by them. They say, “I feel confident I can learn English.” “I feel happy because I learn new words today.” “I disappointed my lawyer not help me.” “I frustrated yesterday I wait for 6 hours at refugee office.” “I feel anxious about war in Syria.” “I disgust the taliban.” They have such important thoughts and the second they learn new words so much of what they are trying to express comes together. One of the women asked me what “suffering” means. I’m not sure where she heard it. I explained the weight of that word and the intensity behind it. When I was done they were all quiet and one of the women put her arms out, gesturing to the whole class  and said. “We suffering. We all suffering.  All refugee, we are suffering.” Words are powerful.

14 thoughts on “The Power of Words

  1. Love you two! Right now – we’re just minutes/seconds away from a few feeling words “delighted, thankful, excited, overjoyed, etc” you know the feelings that NEW BABIES bring. Miss y’all but right now I close my eyes and see your faces clearly – in that view, you both are smiling!

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  2. You’re an awesome teacher! (Writer and learner, too.) Appreciate what y’all are doing. Yay for success at the grocery store!

    Love and prayers, Margaret Stewart

    Sent from my iPhone


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  3. Oh Hannah! What a writer you are! I was right there & could imagine the power and impact of the words spoken by these ladies. Amazing how impactful words are even in a new language! They are Blessed to have you…I am thankful for your obedience….this is not a “task” for the “faint of heart”….thankful you continue to listen to yourPurpose and what God has called you to…SO thankful for your two friends!
    Love and support….doesn’t make being so far away any easier, however His Provision is REAL!!! I love you and miss you both! Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences….

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  4. You are now aunt and uncle of 8lb 10oz 21.5 inch long Giovani Rivera.
    Power of Words was excellent and we know the meaning and experience of the 1., 2., and 3. Options. Your neighbor and grocery lady will probably be your best Greek teachers as you learn the language one face-to-face encounter at a time.
    Message clearly understood and we love you two. In case you can’t recognize us in the photo, it was at a costume party at Mancini’s (Joe knows) and we great-grandparents were doing Westside Story

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  5. Very nice story. I really enjoy reading your posts. BTW, I (as of now) am planning to attend the forum on Eastern Orthodoxy that your team will be hosting in Athens. I hope to connect with you guys a bit while I’m there! All the best, Brett


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  6. Dear Sweet Hannah,

    Wow!!! What an amazing challenge it must be to learn Greek! We all know why people say “It’s Greek to me!” Of course, once you’re a pro, that saying won’t apply to you two!!👍👍👍

    I just love picturing you and Joe continuing to learn your way around together and breathing in deeply the whole experience! Your descriptions of language learning are beautiful because they reveal your investment in your learning as a bridge to love on all the people you encounter! You are planting roots and growing strong and putting out such a lovely fragrance of the love of Jesus wherever you go! Nice!! Be encouraged knowing you are right where God wants you!

    Thanks for sharing your joy! May you be given more with each new morning!



    Sent from my iPhone


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  7. You teach me also,… my refugee friends are progressing, we laugh together, we pray together sometimes for Syrian friends and family, we hope for God’s blessing on their children with BIG health issues. I rejoice with you for God’s blessing different places. xox

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen! One of my favorite things about Jesus is getting to be connected to the people I love who aren’t near me- even through the bond of having to navigate these new relationships He has given both of us:) Thank you for being a welcomer in GA- so important! ❤


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