The Russian Word for Rain

November 24, 2005 | 6 comments
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My conversion has been a lot more like studying a language than being granted the gift of tongues.

I’m in the throes of studying a new language again- Russian this time. I think I’ve finally learned a thing or two about learning a language. It simply takes hard work and patience. It rarely comes quickly. I have to keep at it…and at it…and at it. And more often than not, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere- I spend too much time looking ahead to what I still have to learn. It’s not till I stop and look back that I realize how far I’ve come.

Learning the genitive plural in Russian, or how to pronounce Kyrgyz words, or working my way through Arabic vocabulary lists are all vital to learning those languages. But it’s as important to use what I’m learning- knowing something on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to a productive conversation. I need helpful people who encourage me and gently correct me. I don’t believe anyone can be fluent in a language or in the gospel without both study and application.

Remembering vocabulary in another language is very difficult for me. I usually have to sit down and memorize it over and over. But every so often a word comes with a specific experience that cements it in my mind. For example, I learned the Russian word for rain when a couple stopped in the rain to pick up our family while we were waiting for a bus on the side of a road far from Bishkek.

I’ve never had one single experience that I can look back on as something that convinced me that the gospel is true. I just have to keep studying the scriptures again and again, keep praying, keep having faith. But every so often little things- like the Russian word for rain- happen to me. I can look back on one particular prompting to not do something- something good- that would have completely changed the course of my life, or on a memorable night on the Mount of Olives, or an answered prayer at Bethel.

The language/tongues comparison obviously isn’t perfect- certainly those who have a significant conversion experience have to study and work to keep their faith. I also have no desire to reach near-native ability in any language. I would like to get to that point with my conversion though. I know it will take a lifetime (or more), and that it will only work if I stick with it. But just as I see the benefits of learning a foreign language, I’ve seen the benefits- partly because of the Russian word for rain- of becoming converted to the gospel.

6 Responses to The Russian Word for Rain

  1. Jim F. on November 24, 2005 at 8:15 pm

    Erica, this is a very nice analogy!

  2. Wilfried on November 24, 2005 at 8:39 pm

    Well, Erica, I know a lot of people who studied one or more foreign languages for years, step by step, word after word, practising, reading, speaking, struggling, making errors, and slowly improving. And fluency developed, level by level. And the amazing thing is that when outsiders notice that someone masters those foreign languages, they say: That person sure has the gift of tongues.

    So, finally it’s where we stand that matters, less how we started and how we got there.

    Thanks for your words!

  3. Bryan L on November 25, 2005 at 8:08 am

    Erica, the language/gospel analogy is very powerful. Thanks for sharing your experience with it. Reading your post reminded me of a BYU Devotional address that has greatly influenced my view of becoming a native gospel speaker. It’s obvious I have a long way to go.

  4. Erica Merrell on November 26, 2005 at 5:11 am

    Bryan, Dil Parkinson was one of my Arabic professors at BYU. I very much like that talk you link to. Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. Tatiana on November 27, 2005 at 2:22 am

    What an awesome post! I wish I were coming to Kyrgyzstan! I found out last week that we didn’t get the bid, so I won’t be there after all. Too bad! I was already falling in love with the place. Your post has helped that process along. :-)

  6. Erica Merrell on November 29, 2005 at 7:09 am

    Oh, I’m sorry to hear that Tatiana. It would have been great to have you here.