How do you show someone that you love them? When this topic comes up among me and my friends, inevitably we will end up discussing the five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, gift giving, and quality time. Then we'll all say which ones are "ours" and nod at each other sagely, logging away the information into our brains for future use. I think that the love language categories are a pretty good place to start, but in practice, I've noticed that knowing someone's love language doesn't automatically mean you know how to love them. For example, I remember telling someone once that my love language was words of affirmation. They proceeded to flatter me with pretty empty platitudes, and the attempt fell flat. I'm sure I've done similarly with my attempts at affection. There have been a few times I've given my mom a gift because I liked it and because I liked it I thought she'd like it, and ended up having her regift it to me! I've heard of other similar stories of people who - once they've learned someone's "love language", have clumsily and thoughtlessly tried to use that information to express love with blasé results. Thank goodness for gracious gift receivers!
I think that the key to using the love language information effectively lies in a different love practice: SEEING. People feel loved when they feel known, and noticed, and accepted. It takes a lot of work to figure out what makes a person tick - what kinds of gifts they like, how to touch them in a respectful and meaningful way, how to encourage them verbally, what tasks or responsibilities they'd love taken off their shoulders, what "quality time" even means to them, etc.
If you were to give someone a work of art, you would want to know their taste and preferences before you gave it to them. You'd want to know if the painting you were giving matched their house, or if the illustrated book was a story they'd like, or if the song spoke to their heart. Your message to them is "I love you," so you wouldn't want anything to distract from that. "Wow, thanks for the t-shirt, but you know I hate this brand, right?" "I know I said I like quality time, but not while I'm on the toilet, dude. Give me space!"
This idea of SEEING and NOTICING a person was a huge part of how we chose the artistic direction of our animated projects in Create International. We had a message: "God loves you, and the good news of Jesus's gospel is for you." We wanted to share that good news with people who had never heard it before, and we wanted to express that message without any cultural or artistic distractions. We did the work to research their culture, their history and their style, and we would try to honour that as much as we could in a 10 minute cartoon. We also did our best to make the illustrations and animations as high quality as possible. So, our training was in part how to do art and animation well, and in part how to use those skills to express the Good News message to people who had never heard God's "I love you" before.
My first project with Create was for several people groups in India. We called it "Coconuts." It's a story about two young boys who happen upon a group of people who are learning about stories from the life of Yesu (Jesus). The stories emphasize Jesus's power and strength. He wears a turban, and speaks their language (we made this in several different Indian dialects.) The orange robed teacher shares a ritual of communion with the boys, but instead of using the traditional wine and bread, he uses a coconut. The coconut's shell is broken, just like Jesus's body was broken for us, and the coconut water pours out, just like how Jesus's blood was poured out for us. The idea was to attach the universally relevant story of Christ to familiar Indian images and concepts.
The next project I got to be a part of was for a people group in China called the Naxi. We chose a narrative that specifically addressed a horrible earthquake that had rocked the region in recent history. A young girl whose little brother died in the earthquake goes to live with her grandmother after her parents split up. Her grandmother knows the gospel, but the girl and her friends are unfamiliar. They put their faith in money, or science, or worshipping local spirits. But the grandmother tells them that though natural disasters happen and our foundations get shaken, Jesus himself is a firm foundation that cannot be broken, because he conquered death itself! The girls don't know if they should receive this new God into their lives, but when they all have the same dream one night of their respective foundations being shaken and destroyed, they take it as a sign from God to put their faith in Jesus.
When we visited Vietnam, we got to tell the story of Jesus in another wonderful way - through a personal testimony! There was a local woman who had experienced the power of God in an amazing way. She was already travelling around, witnessing to the love of God in villages and towns around Vietnam. When we came we were able to retell her story in a way that was able to be spread even further - with animation.
Her story is one of tragedy, but also of hope. She had lost her husband and two of her sons, but though she often went to fortune tellers, they only took her money and didn't help her at all. She was totally broke and full of despair. A shaman told her that she needed to give even more money to protect her family from further tragedy. However, she phoned her second son who told her about Jesus, a God who could help her and wouldn't demand money from her, just belief and trust. She felt that she had nothing to lose, so she gave her life to God. Despite the shaman's warning that her other son would die, he didn't! She stopped seeing fortune tellers, and instead goes to God for help. She has no fear now, and has been set free! The animation ends with a worship song she wrote about her new life in God.
We went to Siberia next, and created a "pre-evangelistic" story about the founding father of the Sakha people. The Sakha people believe in many gods, but the local believers wanted to point out that the founders of their culture were monotheistic, and propose that that One God was in fact Jesus. This would become the foundation for them telling their people more about how Jesus could be and should be the God of the Sakha people, too!
We also made a comic book for people in Mongolia, based on a historical figure, Queen Sorghaghtani Beki who actually was a believer! The story we created is about a traitor named Khenbish as he learns about the grace and power of Christ by the testimony of the queen.
This evangelistic production tells a tale of the gospel in a Mongolian context, illustrating the 7 commands of Jesus: Repent and Believe, Pray, Love, Give Generously, Break Bread Together, Make Disciples, and Be Baptized.
And finally! I've come full circle, back to India! Now I'm working on an animation project that tells seven stories of how Jesus brings "Moksh." Moksh breaks the chains of the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. So it's very similar to our word "salvation," I suppose! I'm taking artistic inspiration from Indian Pattachitra paintings, and of course the whole thing is meant to look and sound as Indian as possible, in order to honour their culture and demonstrate Jesus's rightful place in India. God loves India! (Please consider joining my Patreon if you want to support this project!)
The reason I wanted to show all these projects is because each people group is loved by God. And each of their love languages is different. Each of their literal languages is different! The LOVE is the same, the God is the same, but the people are all unique. You can't expect a person from China to receive the gift of the Gospel if they were being told it as if they were Indian. They would say, "obviously, this gift is not for me. It is made for an Indian person."
I want everyone to consider this principle as it applies to their own lives, too. Not everyone is making contextualized animated films for unreached people groups like I was! But we are all meant to love people, and each person you meet has a different "language." Step one to being a really loving person is learning that language before you try telling them your message of love. We were lucky to have the God of Love helping us as we created our messages, because he provided for us, he pointed out mistakes we made, he helped us grow in love for each other in our animating team, and he spent quality time with all of us as we struggled with our art and with life.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4: 7-11)
He knows what it's like to walk in someone's shoes and learn their language before declaring "I love you!" This is ultimately why we did contextualized media projects, because Jesus did it first. He joined our culture, he learned our struggles, and then he addressed those struggles with sensitivity, power and love. What a great example for us, right?
I'd love to hear your stories of when you felt particularly loved by someone - seen and known and accepted. Or if you have experienced the love of God, how was that communicated to you initially? Everyone's stories are so unique and beautiful. It creates a wonderful mosaic of demonstrations of love, which is beautiful and life giving to see! Please share in the comments!