“Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning.  If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me.” I Corinthians 14:1-12



Angela stood at the doorway to my small classroom, her face hidden by her long hair. “I…come here now?” she asked softly, holding up her schedule.

I looked up from the students who had gathered at the round table to review chemistry vocabulary. “Why, yes. Welcome, Angela. We’re happy you’ve joined our school and our class!”

Shyly, Angela walked into the room. Rather than sit with  the six other English as a Second Language  students at the table, she chose a seat as far away as possible and busied herself with reading a textbook  I was sure she could not understand. I’d read Angela’s transfer scripts yesterday; she and her mother had been in the United States only two months and she’d had no English instruction.

Once the group at the table were busy with their vocabulary cards, I walked over to Angela and sat next to her. 

“¿Cómo estás hoy, Ángela? ¿Qué estás leyendo?” I was by no means fluent in Spanish, but it always helped new students if I made an effort to speak their home language. Otherwise, my words would mean nothing to them. I asked Angela what she was working on and our tutoring session began.


I often think of the changes Pentecost brought to the lives of the early believers, when the Holy Spirit descended upon them and distributed His gifts. Before Jesus returned to Heaven, He told his followers to remain in Jerusalem to wait for “the Comforter.” Some believers were given the ability to speak a foreign language, previously unknown to them, so that others could hear the salvation message in their home tongue. Imagine how amazed those foreign born people must have been to hear familiar vocal sounds! Because many people passed along the five roads that led into Jerusalem, it was not uncommon for visitors from other lands to be within its borders. 

Most Israelites were, in fact, able to speak more than one language. While  Biblical scholars believe Jesus and His disciples spoke primarily in Aramaic, they probably also spoke Hebrew and Greek. 

There is no doubt, the gift of tongues is impressive. Often, when the students in my room are chattering away in Spanish, French, Loma, or Chinese, I sorely wish I knew more than just a few basic sentences! I need to remind myself that my gift is one of teaching. I need to make my message clear to them.

In I Corinthians 14:5, Paul says, “ I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,  but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues,  unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.” 1 Corinthians 13:1 makes it clear that we should be more concerned with loving those we are with than impressing them with our lofty words! 


In my work with Angela, whose education in Honduras had provided her with only a few of the academic subjects she required  to graduate high school in the United States, I needed to make sure she understood my instruction. Wiith my halting Spanish, Google translate, and other Spanish-speaking students in the classroom, Angela soon became accustomed to working with the group. 

 I struggled along in Spanish, saying, “Ángela, trabajemos en la tarea de sociología. Está previsto para el jueves.”

She responded in halting English, “No, Senora Linda. Sociology is not on Thursday, but Monday.”

By the second year Angela took English as a Second Language, she stopped hiding behind her long, dark hair and joined the other girls in giggling and laughing. She needed to depend on her Google translate app less and less. 

She could understand the message.

This past June, Angela graduated high school with a scholarship to the Busca  program at LaSalle University.I clapped loudly and couldn’t wait to greet her and her mother after the ceremony.

“Tú eres la que mi hija entendió, “said Mrs.Perez. 

I gave Angela a hug. “I think Angela and I came to understand each other,” I said.

The Holy Spirit imparts His gifts to each of us.Some may speak in tongues, others may evangelize, or serve, or teach. The important thing is not the gift itself, but the clarity of the message we bring.

Deja claro el mensaje. Make the message clear


Linda Cobourn

Linda Cobourn picked up a pencil when she was nine and hasn’t stopped writing since, but she never expected to write about adult autism and grief. When her husband died after a long illness, she began a remarkable journey of faith with her son, an adult with Asperger’s syndrome. The author of Tap Dancing in Church, Crazy: A Diary, and Scenes from a Quirky Life, she holds an MEd in Reading and an EdD in Literacy. Dr. Cobourn also writes for Aspirations, a newsletter for parents of autistic offspring. Her work in progress, tentatively titled Finding Dad: A Journey of Faith on the Autism Spectrum, chronicles her son’s unique grief journey. Dr Cobourn teaches English as a Second Language in Philadelphia and lives with her son and a fat cat named Butterscotch in Delaware County. She can be contacted on her blog, Quirky, and her Amazon author page.