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The Revolution Today: Language Barriers
The story of the Revolutionary War is full of tales that reveal God’s guiding hand, even in the midst of defeat. One such story took place on the night of General ...

The Revolution Today: Language Barriers

The story of the Revolutionary War is full of tales that reveal God’s guiding hand, even in the midst of defeat.

One such story took place on the night of General Washington’s retreat from Long Island. A woman, the wife of a British loyalist, lived near the ferry where Washington’s army was escaping over to Manhattan Island. When she saw what was happening, she sent her African servant to alert British soldiers about the Continentals’ evacuation. The servant got as far as a British outpost, but the men who guarded it were Hessians, German troops hired by the British. These German-speaking soldiers could not understand the servant’s English.

They detained him as a prisoner until morning, when a British officer arrived to interpret. As soon as he heard the news, he sent soldiers to the shore. But it was too late. When they reached the dock, they watched as the last boat ferried the final patriot soldiers across the water, beyond the range of a musket. Not only had a fog protected the Continentals, but so had a language barrier. If the Hessians had been able to understand the servant, or if British soldiers had guarded the outpost instead, the war might have been lost on the spot for the patriots.

“The safe retreat of the patriot army was by many attributed to a peculiar Providence. It was a trust in this Providence, a calm assurance of ultimate success under its guiding care that strengthened the hearts of the patriots in their darkest hour of trial,” historian William Jackman concluded.

The Bible shows several instances where God used language for his purpose. Genesis tells us God confused the languages of those who built the tower of Babel to prevent further disobedience by conspiracy. Yet in the book of Acts, God performs a miracle by allowing the people on the day of Pentecost to hear his message in their own language.

Translating is as essential a part of today’s world as ever. Language barriers sometimes pose problems for medical personnel and patients. Businesses must bridge language barriers to make their commerce global. The deaf community relies on interpreters as their ears in the hearing world. Language can both confuse and unite people.

The American Translators Association has published a guide for such circumstances. They understand what it takes to hire a translator or an interpreter. One of their suggestions is simple: “Take the burden off words,” the guide advises, recommending pictures and diagrams as ways to bridge language barriers.

And pictures are one way God has translated his glory regardless of any human language. Perhaps that’s why he chose both a fog and a language barrier to disguise the Continental army that night on Long Island. The skies proclaim God’s handiwork in language understood by those who simply choose to look heavenward.


Lift my eyes to your skies at least once today, that I may reflect on your glory.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard”

(Psalm 19:1–3).

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