Lost in Translation?

Mrs. C knew the Scriptures, and she knew how to listen to the Holy Spirit. It was a powerful combination, but would something get lost in translation as she attempted to minister to someone like me, who came from a different faith tradition?

For months, I felt as though I’d gotten stuck spiritually, up to my hubcaps in mud, and my own best efforts to get some traction had only succeeded in digging me deeper into the quagmire in which I’d landed. A friend suggested I meet with the mild-mannered, gray-haired grandmother who’d been a mentor to her.

My friend told me Mrs. C was Charismatic, and had a prophetic gifting, but assured me she wasn’t anything like those glitzy, emotional, over-the-top characters I’d seen on late-night TV. I steeled myself for the meeting, resolving to stay “Evangelical calm and rational”, the lane in which I’d been nurtured as a young Christian, during my conversation with her.

As our conversation flowed toward the subject of God’s forgiveness, my resolve crumpled as Mrs. C’s gentle words exposed the nature of my spiritual quagmire. “How am I ever going to wear a white wedding dress?” I asked through my tears. I had never before talked to anyone about the shame I felt about my promiscuous behavior prior to coming to faith in Christ – including Him. I knew all the Bible verses about God’s forgiveness, but I’d been living as though those verses didn’t apply to my particular set of sins. Whenever I thought about who I’d been, I felt a sense of deep shame. Better not to feel that shame and try to march forward like a good Christian soldier, I thought. I didn’t understand that this good soldier strategy was the cause of my spiritual quagmire.

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Mrs. C began to speak, in very specific terms, to what had been my unvoiced, un-prayed thoughts. “What you did with those boys, one after another, has become a place in your heart where you’ve been unable to receive God’s forgiveness. You’ve allowed your sense of unworthiness to become greater than his mercy toward you.”

Yikes. How did she know about the “one after another” part? All I did was ask a question about a white wedding dress. Cynics may think that my question broadcast my issue to Mrs. C. Perhaps it did. But there was a God-given revelatory specificity in the way she responded to me that went far beyond what I presented to her. Her words moved me into my Great Physician’s operating room, where he used the willing Mrs. C as his scalpel, cutting away toxic belief from my healthy faith. She spoke directly to the shame I’d worked so hard to hide, then prayed one Scripture passage after another over me, healing balm to my open wounds.

Only later did I realize that shame wasn’t the only thing keeping me stuck in that spiritual swamp. Pride, disguised as insistence in doing things the “calm and rational way”, held me back from receiving Christ’s forgiveness from a messenger who spoke kingdom language with clarity and love – though she had a different accent than I was used to hearing.


Join the Conversation

Have you ever been ministered to in a deep, transformational way by someone from a different stream than the one in which you are most familiar/comfortable?

What was most challenging about the experience for you? How did it change you?




Michelle Van Loon:
Michelle is a contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog. She is the author of two books about the parables of Christ, and has contributed to several devotional projects as well. You can find a list of her recently-published credits here: http://michellevanloon.com/published-works/. She is involved in mentoring and discipleship relationships, and is in the early stages of a discernment process about pursuing further formal training in the area of spiritual direction.
    • Robert Rife

      Michelle, as one who “has a past” if you will, I deeply appreciate your willing vulnerability. It is refreshing and, although difficult to “put on paper”, deeply challenging and redemptive.

      • Robert Rife

        I meant to establish ME as one with a past, not merely point a finger back at you! Sorry about the poor grammar!

    • As one who comes from the charismatic stream, I am always surprised to see some evangelicals moving in some of the gifts but just not wanting to label it as such. It’s like they have revelatory knowledge, like that of a prophet, to correct and rebuke that only comes through some supernatural transaction. And so I have been ministered to by those who hold different understandings than me. It should also be noted though that I love to ride the tension between evangelicals and charismatics, and my heart is to see unity.

    • Tim

      “this good soldier strategy was the cause of my spiritual quagmire.”
      Great insight, Michelle. Striving on our own gets us stuck in the muddy pit; rest in Jesus’ arms and he lifts us out of it. (Psalm 40.) What gracious irony!

    • Wolf Paul

      I have been involved with a sort of “grass roots ecumenism” or perhaps better “Christian reconciliation” movement here in Austria which includes Catholics, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and Charismatics (we would include Messianic Jews if there were any in Austria, and Eastern Orthodox if there were any interested). We meet twice a year, usually for an evening, a day, and then half a day. I started attending the Catholic mass which one of our participants, a priest, celebrated in the mornings for the Catholic participants, but stayed in my seat during Communion. One evening we had a lengthy discussion about eucharistic fellowship and the limits imposed by the RC church, and I expressed my puzzlement that it seems to be no problem for Catholics who flaunt their church’s rules and exhibit little actual faith to receive the sacrament while Evangelical believers who are largely in agreement on such key things as Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection are excluded.

      At the mass the next morning, after everyone had been served the elements and wanted to head back to their seats, this brother stopped them, and then addressed me personally to ask for forgiveness on behalf of his church for the injustice and hurt of denying me access to the Lord’s table.

      At first I was mostly embarrassed; after all, I knew why I am not a Catholic, and I understood their reasons for “fencing” the sacrament, just didn’t understand why they were not equally strict with their own people who didn’t “walk the talk”; but as time went on I realized how much his gesture had affected me, how much healing and reconciliation it had worked in my heart and mind.

      • Wolf, this is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing with us!

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