The Gift of Tongues

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by Angie

This is the third in a series by our writers and guests regarding spiritual gifts. We hope you enjoy our take on giving and receiving spiritually this Christmas season.

I taught the gospel in very small towns in Brazil almost twenty years ago.  There was no internet, no  There wasn’t even a satellite dish at the stake center (if there was a stake center at all), not even the closed-circuit radio broadcast of my youth in the eastern US.  Members waited patiently for the Liahona to read the words of the prophets in general conference.  But for solemn assemblies, the church sent a video tape of the solemn assembly session so that the members could participate in sustaining a prophet of God.

My first conference was a few months after my arrival in Brazil.  My Portuguese was finally gaining ground and the homesickness was finally beginning to abate.  We took the hour long bus ride with investigators and members to the nearest church building where a television sat atop the podium in front of a standing-room-only congregation to see the new prophet (President Hunter), to hear his counsel and to raise hands to sustain him.

I’d never watched a dubbed conference before and, standing in the back, I found myself quietly crying.  Conference for me has always been an auditory feast.  My childhood was filled with the scratchy whisper of President Kimball, the fiery bellow of Elder McConkie, and the distinctive Idaho warning voice of President Benson.  My young adulthood had warmed to the soothing counsel of Elder Scott, the tender (often cracking) voice of President Eyring and the piercing and precisely crafted words of Elder Maxwell.  I reveled in the opportunity to “listen to a prophet’s voice” and here I was in a place, among people I was beginning to love, who loved the Lord and His prophets and they would never hear the prophet’s voice.  Not really.  They could see him in these rare video taped meetings.  They could raise their hands to sustain him, but the voice they heard belonged to someone else.

I spent my mission watching the love the Brazilian saints have for the Lord and His servants.  I saw how dearly they loved President Faust because he never lost the Portuguese he learned as a young Brazilian missionary.  They loved and accepted each word of the gospel translated for their consumption, but to have the words of their leaders directly in Portuguese was something they treasured close to their hearts.

Fast forward to the present. Our stake president spoke of his brother in law, who organizes interpretation for the church.  He described the vast cubicles in the conference center where the words of the prophets are interpreted into many languages.  And then he began to lay out the criteria for interpretation.  Only native speakers with beautiful language skills and speaking voices would be enlisted to interpret conference.  Only women would interpret for women, men for men.  Ages of speakers would be matched with ages of interpreters.  All this so that those listening to interpreted conference messages would have the closest approximation of what their prophets’ voices actually sound like.  My heart remembered Brazil and solemn assemblies of almost two decades past.

We met a lot of Pentecostals in Brazil.  They would always ask about the gift of tongues in our church.  We would talk about the gift of tongues given to missionaries to speak in the languages where they serve.  We would talk about the importance that messages be understood to be edifying.  But sitting with the stake president, I saw that gifts of tongues are also small things, tender mercies like a woman interpreting for Sister Beck and an experienced man interpreting for President Monson.

  • What tender mercies have you seen in spiritual gifts you have received or witnessed?
  • How does it help you to know the Lord and His servants are mindful even of the vehicle by which we receive His words?

Image (Brazil): Miriam Cardoso de Souza

About Angie

I am a recovering attorney, mother of five children who are smarter than I am. I love to learn. I love to think. I love to read and I love to write.

4 Responses to The Gift of Tongues

  1. Bonnie says:

    I was humbled by the thought that I have always heard the prophet’s voice in my own language. This post caught me in my own narrow-mindedness and I’ve been thinking about language and the gift of tongues differently. It really is a gift to bless God’s children with the words as well as the spirit in their own tongue, because our own tongue is the sound of the voice in our head and heart. I often wonder about the people of Babel and how profoundly it affected their culture and their associations to cease to be able to hear each other in their own tongues. This isn’t my gift, as much as I might like it to be, and I just watch with wonder from the sidelines as it blesses people’s lives. Being such an outsider to its workings, this helps to understand it better.

    • Angie F says:

      That’s an interesting thought about Babel. It must have been soul crushing and so very lonely for them! God promises His children they will have His words in their own tongues. To have been a very small cog in that process continues to enrich my soul.

  2. Christina Bartholomew says:

    Beautifully written, Angie.

  3. jendoop says:

    Our family lived in a Spanish speaking branch for a few years even though our Spanish was rudimentary. Over time I picked up a little Spanish (although my young women would laugh at my accent, or lack of it). Two of my favorite phrases are “Jesus vive!” which was often accompanied by beautiful testimonies on fast Sunday, and “recibir el Espiritu Santo,” when someone would be confirmed a member of the Church and receive the Holy Ghost. I came to love the sound of those words, and a few others, even more in Spanish than in my own native English because of the memories and people associated with them.

    In that branch I came to understand much better what a tragedy it was when languages were confounded. That barrier between the Latino sisters and myself was difficult, still we found ways to love each other and work together. I see that as a gift of tongues, not that we were able to understand foreign words, but that we understood and loved each other despite the language and culture differences.

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