A Taste of Miscommunication

I looked across the counter, through the pane of glass, trying to decide whether to look encouraging or confused. Encouraging, since I could tell she was searching for the right word. Or confused, because I could tell that she knew I wasn’t getting it.

We’d come to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in NYC to ask about the application process for missionary visas. I’d talked with missionaries about this, but didn’t remember much. So a really nice official was talking me through the list (in Chinese script – she couldn’t find one in English at the time), explaining each document I’d have to submit. She’d gotten through them and we were reviewing. I’d assumed that when she said something about papers establishing “fatherhood” (I forget exactly how she was saying it), she meant birth certificates for our children. But she clearly wasn’t satisfied.

After she tried several times and I was still thinking birth certificate, she consulted another official, then tried again with a word he suggested. Then it clicked. They were trying to tell me I needed a certificate of ordination. Apparently their frame of reference was Roman Catholicism or another group with orders of priesthood.

It’s always tempting – when I can’t understand – to just nod yes or say “OK” and move on, avoiding embarrassment for both of us. Hopefully, it’s nothing really important, right? But that’s not a very good strategy. We’ll be facing this kind of communication challenge for a long time, and about really significant issues. We don’t want to just assume or guess when it comes to what someone believes about the Bible!


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