Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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A Strange Language

By on February 29, 2016

I should have known better! Following a Sunday morning worship service, my pastor friend invited me to what he described as a “really good Mexican food restaurant.” This was in western Virginia, for Pete’s sake! And as something of an expert on the subject, I’ve discovered that once you get out of the Southwest a lot of chow that passes as Mexican cuisine just doesn’t taste “right.” That said…there we sat in the “Casa Something-or-Other.”

The waiter was a pleasant young Hispanic man who had no idea that he was about to become a victim of my keen language skills. Since Jeannie and I had been putting our toe into the pond of Spanish linguistics, I thought I’d ask how I could pray for him. So I put on my most compassionate face, gathered up a few pronouns, threw in a couple of “orar’s” and plunged into the conversation. It soon became obvious that either he didn’t speak Spanish, or that he was a Portuguese-speaking Brazilian. The poor guy couldn’t understand me!

As those of us who have linguistic savvy know quite well, there is only one remedy in a situation like this…slower and louder. He still looked puzzled, so I gave him one more opportunity to benefit from my prayer…more slowly and more loudly. With that, a smile of comprehension suddenly broke across his face. “I think he’s got it,” I said to myself, sounding like Richard Harris in “My Fair Lady.” But I was dead wrong.

With a knowing smile on his face, my waiter nodded and replied, “Number nine, or number twenty-seven, beef or chicken, sometimes with taco!”

Permit me three observations:

First, I do not think it’s fair for people to work in Mexican restaurants if they do not recognize clearly enunciated, classical Spanish. The poor man was at an obvious disadvantage when dealing with my well-honed linguistic skills. I felt sorry for him.

Second, I’m intrigued by the fact that of all the prayer requests I’ve heard over the years, this is one that I clearly remember. (And, by the way, I do pray for him every time I recall our conversation)! Perhaps that’s what God had in mind all along!

Third, our Lord understands every prayer, in every language, from every true believer, anywhere on earth. And He will one day hear “a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation” as they gather around His Throne to worship Him. I just marvel at the thought of that!

I guess I should register one more thought. There really is a great Mexican restaurant in Dillwyn, Virginia. Just ask the Johnston brothers.

Rejoice evermore!
Tom Elliff
2 Tim 1:12

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  • lori bennett

    A strange language, I really had to laugh – very funny. Seriously though, Our Lord understands every Prayer in every language – WOW Lori, Sheridan Hills Baptist