Latinos or Hispanics in the United States come from various backgrounds, cultures, and dialects (a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group). Even though we share a common language, there are differences in dialects.
Don’t get me wrong – we are able to communicate amongst ourselves, but certain words in a particular country may have a different meaning in another. For example, consider the word “birria,” which in some parts of Mexico is a beef dish, but in most Central American countries means “beer.”
My family and I were visiting a sister in Christ who lived near Norman Park but was originally from Mexico. She offered “birria” to our family to which I responded, “Sister, we don’t drink.” I thought “Oh, you Corinthian!” For a moment, sharing the gospel came to mind. She realized we had no idea what she was saying, so she walked us into the kitchen and showed us the beef dish. Misunderstandings such as this happen every day when countries and cultures come together.
Many people want to label all Hispanics as if we are all the same or a melting pot under one language, which is far from the truth. Some people categorize the entire culture into one country. People will ask me, “Where are you from?” I reply, “From Honduras,” to which they respond, “What part of Mexico is that in?” We are not all from Mexico!
The vast majority of Hispanics who speak Spanish are from Spanish-speaking countries whose primary language or heart language is not Spanish! According to research, there are roughly 61 dialects spoken in Mexico and 24 dialects in Guatemala. Additional variations of these dialects are also spoken.
In Grady County there is a large community of people from southern Mexico and northern Guatemala who speak two of the predominate indigenous languages or dialects that came from the Mayan people. One is the Mam language primarily spoken in Guatemala and some parts of southern Mexico, and the other is the Tzotzil language spoken primarily in the southern states of Mexico.
El Camino Hispanic Mission in Cairo has been able to reach and minister to both groups. To put it in perspective, we consider Hispanics who speak Spanish and another dialect of Spanish as bi-lingual. A few years ago, I visited a Sunday School class at El Camino. The leader was reading the Bible in Spanish and teaching in Tzotzil. For a minute I thought I was in a Pentecostal church and he was speaking in tongues!
A Korean sister from the Korean Baptist Church in Warner Robins, who does not speak Spanish, wanted to share the gospel with a Hispanic lady. She decided to take her to Templo Bautista Hispano in Warner Robins. My wife, Rossy, and I were attending the church and we sat next to the her. When we were introduced, we asked her if she spoke Spanish, to which she responded, “I can speak Spanish, but I can’t read it well because it’s not my native tongue.” When she told us what her heart language was, I searched for it on the Bible.is app and found that it was a Mayan indigenous language.
When the pastor was preaching, she would listen to the app hearing the Bible verses in her heart language. At the end of the service when the invitation was made, she quickly got up to receive Christ! The Korean sister was very emotional because her goal of winning her friend to Christ had finally happened.
On Bible.is, you can search by a country or language; if you ask a Hispanic where they’re from, you can pull up the list of countries, find the country and discover the different languages in that country. Asking a person what country they’re from or what language they speak is another way of engaging them to introduce them to the gospel. Hispanics are very relational people and asking where they’re from is a way to make them feel you care.
In 2015, I was serving as State Missionary for the South and Central Georgia area. That year our annual South Georgia Hispanic Church Growth and Missions Conference was held at First Baptist Church of Lyons. During the lunch break I sat across from a couple from Puebla, Mexico, who had come from the Claxton Hispanic Mission. They said that their native tongue is Nahuatl (nah-wat). This was the language spoken by the Aztecs in the interior of Mexico at the time the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico. Even though some of the dialects have died out, many are still preserved in areas of Mexico.
After a study that I engaged in about 10-15 years ago, I was able to identify between 8-10 different indigenous language peoples from both Guatemala and Mexico living in the south and central part of the state of Georgia. It also included a variation of the Nahuatl language.
Despite such diversity in cultures and languages, the gospel is bringing people together. It has broken through cultural barriers and borders, and on any given Sunday you can see the power of the gospel on display with some Baptist congregations in Georgia having 13-15 different nationalities worshipping together. It is amazing to see brothers and sisters in Christ whose countries back home are at war, standing together in unity and worshiping the God of the universe.
If you are interested in engaging any Hispanic for the purpose of working with them, introducing them to the Lord or just developing a friendship, remember that each of them are individuals with a specific history and not all of them speak Spanish! You don’t have to know Spanish or any of the dialects to give the message of the gospel, because that message is universal – love and acceptance.
Hispanic Heritage Month was Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.