Charles de Foucauld, Silent witness for Jesus, 'in the face of Islam'

Why did Charles devote so much of his time and energy to this intensive linguistic study? At first his motif is clear and simple. He writes to his 'bishop',

'My intention, is to begin evangelizing the Touareg by settling among them, learning their language, translating the Holy Gospels, becoming friends with them as best I can.'
So he translates the four Gospels, and produces a 'little dictionary and an elementary grammar'28 and he affirms:
'The Touareg language is very easy, a hundred times easier than Arabic.'
With his usual 'fougue', he works in haste! But he soon realizes that a proper knowledge of the language is more complex! With this in mind, he calls on an experienced linguist, Motylinski, who comes to spend some months with him. Apart from the learning of the required technical skills for studying an oral language, Charles learns from him to change his perspective and method: instead of
'translating what he wished to communicate to the Touareg, he should rather listen to them and to their spoken language, both prose and poetry'.
But at first he remains convinced that a
'scientific study of the language is outside my vocation'.
However, after his physical and psychological crisis of January 1908, he writes:
'So much linguistic work remains to be done: it will take thirty years',
and a little later he adds:
'My life is mainly taken up with the study of the Touareg language ... I had thought that it was poor and simple; on the contrary, it's rich and complex.'
There is little doubt that Charles' motivation changes. He studies the language and culture not just as a means but as an end in itself, and as an essential component of a genuinely reciprocal friendship. And his steadfast refusal to allow his linguistic works to be published under his own name is a sign that this work, with all the human relationships that it involved (hours of participating in gatherings of men and of women recounting their stories and their poems), was genuinely gratuitous.

But can Charles' approach to evangelization be reconciled with his desire for a genuine friendship that is both reciprocal and gratuitous? When coming to Tamanrasset, Charles clearly intended to propose the Gospel to the people when appropriate; was it not his initial reason for learning the language? But soon after his near-death crisis, he writes:

'There may well be centuries between the first digging of the earth and the harvest.'29
A month later he adds:
'To preach Jesus to the Touaregs is not, I believe, something that Jesus wishes, neither from me nor from anybody. It would be the way of retarding, not advancing, their conversion. The need is to get to know them, with great prudence and gentleness.'
This long-term perspective leaves the present free: free to 'get to know' the other as the other is and wishes to be. The penetration of another culture, and the cultivation of patient personal contacts, are sure ways to come to know these persons and their communities. And such a search for 'scientific' knowledge is the gateway to friendship, already in fact a key constituent of it.