Up close and candid with Darren Gordon
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up mainly in western Washington. We moved around quite a bit when I was growing up. After I graduated from high school, I attended Trinity Western University for a year. As an international student, I quickly ran out of money and returned home to work and take classes at a community college. Later, I transferred to Simpson University in Redding, California where I met my wife Erin. After we graduated from Simpson, we joined Wycliffe Bible Translators and worked in three different countries in Asia. Along the way, our four kids were born. Our oldest, Melinda (20), is living in California where she is working and going to school. Allison (16) attends Caronport High School, and Laura (14) and Anthony (11) attend Caronport Elementary School. In my down time, I enjoy hiking and camping, gardening, reading, playing board games, and cooking, among other things.
What are you currently working on?
I am enjoying teaching courses in the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program, such as phonology and second language acquisition. This semester, I am excited to be able to facilitate the practicum II course, which gives students experience in classrooms at various partner institutions in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, as well as the TESOL internship course which provides students with an English teaching experience in another country during the summer. I love the students and their enthusiasm for serving God with their gifts and skills wherever the Lord leads them.
My most significant work outside of teaching is my doctoral dissertation. The topic is focused on recent TESOL graduates beliefs about professional responsibilities of English language teachers, particularly regarding language diversity. I am hoping to conduct research for my dissertation this spring and complete the analysis and narrative of the research results by the end of this summer.
What were you doing before you came to Briercrest and how did you end up here?
As I shared earlier, we were with Wycliffe Bible Translators/SIL for 15 years. During that time we lived in three different countries. I served in various roles over those years. Sometimes I was a linguistic researcher, sometimes I was a linguistic professor, sometimes I was an administrator, sometimes I was an English teacher, but always, I was a language learner. Six years ago, we moved back to the States and I began teaching in the TESOL program at Simpson University in Redding, California.
The story of how we ended up at Briercrest is really quite amazing. Many Christian universities have found themselves in challenging financial situations in recent years, and Simpson was no exception. In December 2015, we were told to expect budget cuts including faculty and staff lay-offs. This was really the beginning of a long uprooting process. Not knowing what the future might hold, I started to look for open positions. However, my search was very specific geographically. I was only looking locally and in Oregon and Washington where our families are located. In February, I came across a posting for a TESOL professor at Briercrest. We had a vague memory of hearing the name of Briercrest, but had no idea where Caronport, Saskatchewan was. We looked at some picture on the internet. It looked cold and flat. Plus, it was miles away from where we wanted to be. I didn’t apply for the position.
In April, I was laid off. Erin and I began to earnestly seek God’s will for our future. We realized that we needed to submit our plans entirely, being open to God moving us anywhere, even overseas again. Letting go of our preferences was actually freeing and exciting. One evening, Erin brought up the job posting from Briercrest saying, “I guess since we are open to going anywhere, we should have been open to going to Saskatchewan.”
The next morning I was doing my routine job search and I could not believe what I saw. The TESOL position at Briercrest had been reposted. I immediately called Erin at work (she was a grade 6-8 English teacher at a Christian school). “You have to apply for it,” she said.
The rest happened very quickly. I applied that day. Two weeks later we were on a plane to interview and two months later we were driving a U-Haul across the country with three kids, a dog, and two pet rats. God made it abundantly clear that this was the next step for us. We saw that confirmed in the willingness and even eagerness of our kids as they moved to a new place. There has not been a day of doubt that He has led us here.
When did you discover your love for languages and how did that develop?
It’s hard to point to one time specifically. I started taking German in grade 7 and loved singing German songs in class. In high school, I read a book titled Called to Die. It doesn’t sound like a book you would choose for inspiration, but it introduced me to the reality that many languages around the world are not written and don’t have access to Scripture. I was gripped by this and became interested in linguistics. That love of languages has become a part of me. This last fall, Erin and I were able to take a Cree class at the Moose Jaw Public Library. My hope is to be able to continue to learn Cree.
Which languages do you know?
I have learned Bahasa Indonesia, Thai, and Lao. I don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia as much now since I haven’t used it a lot since 2002. It is hard to remain fluent in many languages unless you live in a multilingual context and can use them to varying degrees every day. I have also learned some Tagalog, Manado Malay, Khamet, and Hmong. I’ve been exposed to Sunda and Minahasan languages in northern Sulawesi. I learned Greek in college and took German when I was younger. As I mentioned, I have just started learning Cree and am excited to learn more and hopefully become semi-fluent.
How have you seen God work through your passion for languages?
Language has great potential for building bridges when it is approached in humility, love, and a desire for relationship. It can break down the concept of the “Other” as one enters into the process of knowing nothing and relying on someone else to teach a new way of conceptualizing and communicating human experience. When I began learning Khamet, an unwritten Asian language, it was evident that it had a tremendous impact on relationships with those I would meet. No one ever learns their language—they are at the bottom of the linguistic, ethnic, and social hierarchy. There was a sense of value and esteem that was infused into my relationship with Khamet people, in part by the perceived power and prestige that I laid down as the speaker of a prestigious language. I didn’t maintain my “superior” position by insisting on using English, Thai, or Lao, but worked to enter their world.
How does learning language fit within the context of reconciliation?
Language is one of the most visceral aspects of human existence. It is hard to imagine life and relationships without language. It is deeply involved and connected with our experiences and with the ways in which we interact with our world—language is inseparable from culture. However, languages, just like many other aspects of human relationship become hierarchical. Certain languages assume positions of power and often this has led to language loss for those on the opposite end of the power inequality. If I love my neighbours and desire their good, this means to me that I should really care about the things that are closest to them, particularly their language and culture.
As a white male, native English speaker, I recognize that I have been ascribed a position of power and privilege in many places in our modern world. However, as a follower of Christ and following His example of kenosis, I believe that one demonstration of relinquishing power and privilege and serving in humility is to recognize linguistic equality and learn the language of my neighbour. If Christ did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but rather to relinquish for the sake of the world, then as a follower of Jesus, I need to understand what it is that I cling to, especially those things that are imbued with power and privilege.
I like to refer to this as a “strangering” process. What Christ did was take a position and a form which was not His own—He strangered Himself. Rather than viewing the “Other” as a stranger, He Himself became the stranger in order to de-stranger the world, reconciling the world to have a restored relationship with our Creator. In a similar way, learning a language engages this process—we put ourselves in the position of the stranger and through relationship and the ability to communicate more and more in the language of the “Other,” we no longer remain strangers, but become friends