Since I could not get animal crackers for our Noah’s Ark lesson, I decided to be creative and make cutout cookies. At the store, I found what I thought was flour. The packaging read Heljedino Brašno, and I knew the word for flour was brašno so I grabbed the package and headed to the checkout. I learned the hard way that heljedino is the Croatian word for buckwheat. Let me just tell you, buckwheat sugar cookies do NOT taste good! —Sarah, Croatia
Before we learned the importance of pronouncing Thai with the proper tones, we would get into a taxi and tell the driver where we wanted to go. The drivers always did a double take and looked at us strangely. We later learned that instead of saying that our destination was Muang Ake, we were saying “knock on your head.” —Vicki
To get acquainted with people in Siberia, you invite them to your home for tea. As outer clothing is considered dirty and hot to wear inside, a host greets visitors by saying, “Come in. Take off your clothes (meaning hat, coat, gloves, and boots). Have some tea.”
A Russian English-speaking teacher/translator was hired to receive American visitors and she hospitably invited them to her home for tea. However, something got lost in her translation from Russian to English when she told them, “Come in. Get undressed. Have some tea.”
Brother Johnny Leslie, missionary to Croatia, was preaching about John the Baptist having his head cut off. He should have said odrezati but instead said narezati. Both words mean “cut,” but the congregation roared with laughter because narezati is only used when talking about slicing something like salami!
We asked our language helper for the two statements: (1) That is a shovel. (2) That is not a shovel. I felt certain he didn’t understand my instructions because the two statements sounded identical. I challenged him by confidently saying, “You are saying the same thing.” What was I doing, correcting my language helper when I knew so very little about his language? I felt so foolish when I realized that though the two statements did have identical sounds, there was a difference in the stress placed on one of the syllables. —Charlie, Ghana
The missionary’s audience was a little perplexed as he told them the disciples were all on a “rock” in the middle of the sea. The audience wondered why the disciples were there and how they even got there. It was even more confusing when the missionary illustrated that Jesus Christ is our “boat” that never moves. They were curious to know how the motionless boat represented Christ. The message was clarified when the missionary realized he had confused the word “dunga” (boat) with “dhunga” (rock). —Justin
In Nepali culture, as in many cultures around the world, children are often a conversation piece. You often hear compliments such as kasto ramro chhori! which means, “What a GOOD girl!” given to the parents. However, an untrained foreigner who attempts to reproduce this compliment could easily offend the other parent by saying, kasto ramro chori! which means, “What a good THIEF!” —Justin
We finished our first semester of Hebrew a few weeks ago. We are enjoying a break but are also looking forward to getting back to our studies. We now know enough Hebrew to be dangerous, and if we’re not careful, get into conversations past our understanding. The word for the phrase see you later is “lehitraot,” but I didn’t say it right. What I said was the word for pasta; it’s so easy to get some strange looks! —M.P.
While visiting a church in the USA, a missionary told of one occasion when he was preaching a sermon (possibly his first) in Japanese. “Sin will ruin your life; you must forsake your sin!” he cried, only to see bewilderment on the faces of the congregation. After the service, a kind Japanese man explained, “I think you meant to say sin; but the way you pronounced the word, it means wife!”
An American missionary was preaching in Romanian on the subject of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Vividly describing how the people shouted praises as Jesus rode into town, he failed to realize that he had mistaken the word Magyar (Hungarian) for măgar (donkey). The Romanians, of course, enjoyed a few laughs over the idea of Jesus being carried around on the back of a Hungarian. —G. Sutek
Years ago a missionary in Indonesia wanted his worker to cut the grass. However, he kept telling the man to get a hair cut. (Rambut means hair, and rumput means grass.) After three hair cuts and a nearly bald head, the error was detected.
Another blooper from Indonesia is the frequent misuse of the words kalapa and kapala. Kalapa means coconut and kapala means head. Though it is quite okay to drink coconut juice, it is not good to request head juice at a restaurant! —Christine
Once in Oaxaca, Mexico, while teaching in a home Bible study about Sabbath observance, I meant to say “sabatistas” (those who worship on Saturday), but I said “sabanistas.” “Sabanas” are bed sheets. Someone said, “Yeah, sabanitas are the people that stay in bed on Sunday and worship God between the sheets!” My preaching may not have always been edifying, but it was entertaining! —Rex