John Nevius’ Advice for Missionary Language Learners

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

At the end of his classic work, “The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches”, veteran missionary John Nevius has a chapter of advice to new missionaries, including many relevant comments on language study and the timing of beginning the work of ministry.  Here’s some excerpts:

Avoiding Distraction from Language Study
“It may well be a matter of congratulation that the newly arrived missionary is exempt for the first year or two from the pressure and responsibility of deciding the many questions of mission policy upon which he must form an opinion at a later period. Whatever department of work he may devote himself to in the future, there is no room for doubt that his first duty is to give his time and energies to the thorough acquisition of the language as a necessary prerequisite to usefulness in work of any kind. For this it is of the greatest advantage to be free, as far as possible, from cares and interruptions of every description.” (p.83)

When to Take on Ministry Responsibilities
"Here, if I mistake not, we are apt to be too hasty. After years of preparation at home we are anxious to begin our life work at once. We hardly realize that aside from the study of the language other special preparation for the work before us is still necessary. If a man has come from home designated to a particular department of work, or the exigencies of his field on his arrival constitute a call to some special work, the case is quite different. If there is no such call, I should, as a rule, advise him to keep clear from the responsibilities and distractions of an independent personal work, for three, four or more years. One ought not to allow himself to be troubled with the though that he is holding back and not taking his full share of labor, or with the fear that he may lay himself open to such imputations from others. I recommend this plan as the best course for securing the greatest usefulness." (p.87)

Continuing Language Study After You’ve Learned the Basics
“It has been to me a matter of constant regret that a portion of time was not strictly reserved, especially during my first five or ten years in China, for laying a broader and deeper foundation for future usefulness by a more extensive and methodical reading and memorizing of Mandarin and Classic literature. Suitable and adequate plans were made for such study, but other occupations in the form of direct missionary work, promising immediate results, allowed to interfere with and set aside those plans. In this way, as in many others, we are too easily induced to sacrifice a greater future good to a less present one." (p.88)


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