In spare time, we all go about enjoying friends’ company differently. Personally, I have always loved playing ping pong after ball practices, in Ehaus lobby with high school mates, and anywhere else that a table exists with a net splitting its middle. Naturally, then, while looking for ways to participate in fun activities with the orphans while teaching sessions were not taking place, my eyes fell upon the ping pong table.
In Addis Ababa, the main language (among the other 80 or so languages found around Ethiopia) is Amharic. Language has always been a strong suit for me, but this language isn’t like French, English, Spanish, German, Italian, or more mainline languages that one might study in America. There is not a one to one word translation from Amharic to English in most cases; so, while transitioning to the new language setting, I’ve seen my fair share of communication difficulties.
The beauty of this rickety, warped ping pong table is that more communication occurs over and through its use than does any other recreational activity at the orphanage. Now, I’m learning new phrases so that I can communicate in a very basic way, but with every ping pong match all that is required is the knowledge of Amharic numbers to keep score. After this, actions speak louder than words. Cliché? Perhaps, but the reason why old aphorisms stick around like a nagging toothache is because the truth does not ever change.
While in Ethiopia however, I have learned more than cultural practices and new Amharic phrases. I have learned the intrinsic value of action over its relatively cheaper counterpart, mere talk. In this simple game, I can teach the young orphans more about the importance of fairness and following the rules than any lecture or conversation would accomplish. I can further earn their respect by not only skills on the table, but following the rules when I lose.
I began to realize that my inability to communicate through word, but rather through deed related to the Gospel in a very subtle, but very real way. The ability to communicate through words will always be desired for expediency, but it is cheap. It is baseless. It is through action that true communication occurs! Christ proclaimed that the ‘temple’ would be torn down and rebuilt in three days. Did His words remain groundless, empty, and unjustified? On the contrary, the very temple he referred to was pierced and nailed to the cross, and torn apart. And then it was rebuilt in three days, rising from its rubble and demonstrating His words in the fullest. When we put our money where our mouth is, this is when the Gospel has truly taken root in the very foundations of our soul. When our lives are leveraged in a way that confirms our confessions that come from our mouths, we have begun to live out truth. Our words are mere standards to which we must adhere. But actions, they are the currency of truth.
James’ letter in the New Testament, at first glance, seems to teach much more than simple saved by grace alone. It seems to teach that actions are a requirement for the mercy which we receive through Christ, but a closer look shows that salvation through grace alone and good works are merely two sides to the same coin. Show me your confession of faith and I will show you good works by faith.
I realize that by the time my withdrawal from Ethiopia arrives, I still will be in the process of gaining a basic understanding of the Amharic language. I will still be failing at certain pronunciations and will be struggling to comprehend the Habesha people. However, I have felt deeply in my heart the true value of a man’s actions. The Holy Spirit reminds me daily that the language of love in action is universally accepted and recognized among all peoples regardless of any language barrier that persists. God willing, perhaps my actions on the ping pong table, on the basketball court, in soccer games, and the in the classroom would point these kids to a greater Love that is deeper, more selfless, and more perfect: one that does not have an earthly beginning. After all, a man’s actions are the weight and measure of his very soul, and a litmus test for his convictions.