“In Our Own Tongues”: A Defense of Miraculous Speech Based on Eyewitness Testimony
Consider the following testimonies of people recognizing “other tongues” as real human languages.
Since the Azusa Street revival, skeptics have branded speaking in tongues as “weird babble” and “strange utterances.”1 More than a century has now passed, and many still maintain the same criticism.
For some, speaking in tongues is nothing more than unintelligible nonsense. One evangelical leader, for example, recently characterized modern tongues as “nonmiraculous, nonsensical gibberish.”2 This author, a well-known cessationist, contends that biblical tongues have now ceased. He claims the contemporary phenomenon of tongues is only a counterfeit. He and other skeptics criticize modern tongues as bearing no resemblance to real human language.
But are the tongues Pentecostals speak really only an imitation of language? In Global Witnesses to Pentecost: The Testimony of “Other Tongues,” I present more than 80 accounts of believers speaking in real, authentic languages.3 Offered here are eight such testimonies.
In each testimony, witnesses recognized the tongues as known languages. Some witnesses repented and gave their hearts to the Lord. Many were encouraged and refreshed. But, like the onlookers on the Day of Pentecost, what they heard amazed them.
Consider the following testimonies of people recognizing “other tongues” as real human languages.
Tongues of Praise
While attending North Central Bible School (now North Central University), Merlin Lund prayed for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Time after time, he sought the Lord, but nothing happened. Then one day in prayer, he started making clicking sounds. The noise surprised everyone, but most told him, “That’s not the Holy Ghost. Just come back tomorrow, and we’ll continue praying.”
A year later, a visiting missionary heard Lund make the clicking sounds and, as one eyewitness put it, “about went into orbit.”
“Oh, if you can hear how he’s praising the Lord,” the missionary exclaimed.
The visiting missionary recognized the clicks as Zulu.
Lund eventually moved to South Africa as a missionary and ministered among the different tribes there, including the Zulu.
Tongues of Deliverance
Kathy Buckles went on a short-term missions trip to Costa Rica with some members of her church. Once she arrived, Kathy prayed, “Please Lord, let me pray in tongues in the language the people here understand.”
One evening, as Buckles prayed with a distressed woman, her prayers turned into tongues. She kept praying with the woman until she felt a release from the Lord. When Buckles walked away, the thought came to mind that she had actually spoken in Spanish when praying for the upset woman.
The next morning, the resident missionary, Rick Ryan, told Buckles he was standing nearby as she prayed in tongues the night before. He told her she spoke in fluent Spanish, and because of her prayer, the Lord delivered the woman from an evil spirit, saved her, and baptized her in the Holy Spirit.
When Buckles asked the Lord to let her pray in the local language, she had no idea how He would answer her prayer. She simply trusted the Lord, and the Holy Spirit did a marvelous miracle.
Tongues of Prophecy
Murray and Marjorie Brown served as missionaries to West Africa from 1940 to 1980. Not long after arriving in West Africa, the couple welcomed their first child into the world, a baby girl named Ruth Elaine.
Little did they know a decade would pass before they would have another child. They prayed repeatedly over the ensuing years as they faced one failed pregnancy after another. They almost gave up, but God had a miracle in store.
While serving in Dapango (now Dapaon), Togo, Marjorie overhead an African child praying in English: “You’re going to have another baby, and it will be a boy. When he is born, you will know nothing is impossible with God!”
But the African child couldn’t speak English. He was simply praying in tongues. God spoke a prophetic word through the young child specifically for Marjorie — a word not only of encouragement but also of promise.
This promise was realized on September 9, 1950, with the birth of Murray Nelson Brown Jr. at the Ridge Hospital in Accra, Ghana. He now serves as executive director of Teen Challenge of Greater Cleveland in Ohio.
Tongues of Confirmation
Every summer, Doyle Jones, the former missions director for Southwestern Assemblies of God University, took a group of students on a foreign missions trip.
In 1998, one of his former students, missionary Chad Germany, asked Jones to travel to India. But Jones was undecided on whether to go to India or another country.
Then one day something miraculous occurred. Jawahar Samuel from Coimbatur, India, preached in the SAGU chapel. Sheba Kulothungan, a professor from the same Indian city, served as interpreter. During the service, Samuel prayed for Jones. Rather than falling down under the power of the Spirit like most of those in attendance, Jones began speaking in tongues.
Samuel became visibly excited when he heard this. As Jones finished praying, both Samuel and Kulothungan told him he was praising God in their native language. They heard him speak in Tamil without even a hint of an accent.
One of the professors, Adonna Otwell, was standing behind Jones when this happened. Knowing he was contemplating going to India, she asked him with a smile, “Did you need a confirmation?”
Later, Jones wrote his former student an e-mail explaining what had happened. Germany replied, “I just prayed and said, ‘God, if You want Dr. Jones and a team to come to India this summer, speak clearly.’ ”
Obviously, God spoke clearly. Jones and his team went to India the next summer and started a church in Madurai that is still thriving today.
Tongues of Knowledge
One morning the Holy Spirit awakened Pastor Don Neel. In prayer, God told him that Hilda Compton, one of his parishioners, was contemplating suicide. Neel and his wife went to Compton’s residence, but no one appeared to be home. They repeatedly knocked on the front door, but no one answered. They tried the back door and waited patiently.
When Compton finally came to the door, Neel told her how God had directed his prayer. Compton reluctantly invited the couple in, though she insisted she was fine.
The pastor knelt down by the woman’s chair and sought the Lord. At first, he prayed in English. Then he started praying in tongues. When he finished, he noticed Compton’s countenance had changed.
“Brother Neel, I didn’t realize you know my native language, Italian,” she exclaimed.
“Hilda, you know I don’t speak Italian, but God knew what you needed to hear, and I was just the messenger,” the pastor replied.
Compton didn’t reveal what Neel said in prayer, but she did admit to contemplating suicide.
Tongues of Encouragement
A young Japanese woman felt a little down one Sunday morning. So she prayed and asked God to confirm His love for her. After praying, she went to church. There, God answered her prayer in a miraculous and wonderful way.
In the middle of the service, everything suddenly stopped. A woman named Pauline Holt then burst forth in an utterance of tongues. The interpretation went like this: “I’m your God. I know where you are, and I love you. I’m walking with you. Hold on. Victory is yours. I’m still your God.”
After the service, the Japanese woman approached the pastor’s wife, Martha Tennison. She wanted to speak with Holt about what had just happened. She claimed to have heard Holt speak in Japanese when speaking in tongues. And then she heard the interpretation, which was an exact translation of the Japanese.
When the two met, the Japanese woman exclaimed, “You speak Japanese!”
Holt was amazed. “I can barely speak English, much less Japanese,” she replied.
The Japanese woman was confused, so Tennison tried to explain. “Have you ever watched TV,” Tennison asked, “and they say ‘we interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin’? That is what happened here. The Holy Spirit stopped everything just to bring you a special bulletin.”
The Japanese woman never missed another church service. “There might be other bulletins for me,” she said. “And I don’t want to miss any!”
Tongues of Conviction
Missionary John DeCock picked up a hitchhiker somewhere between Paramaribo and Moengo, the two largest cities in Suriname. He tried unsuccessfully to strike up a conversation with the man. He attempted to speak to him in multiple languages — including French, German, Dutch, and English — but the stranger just stared back blankly.
Finally, DeCock cried out to the Lord, wondering whether he had made a mistake by picking up this hitchhiker.
The missionary sensed God saying: “Didn’t I give you another language?”
Yes, but …
“Well, why don’t you use it?”
Thinking there wouldn’t be any harm, DeCock began speaking in tongues. To his amazement, the hitchhiker’s expression immediately changed, and he started talking back. From then on, John spoke in tongues and gave the man time to respond.
They conversed for about 15 minutes. John couldn’t understand a word, but he could tell the man was deeply touched.
As they approached Tamanredjo, a Javanese community, the man motioned for DeCock to stop there. Before getting out, the hitchhiker started crying. He took both of DeCock’s hands in a gesture of thanks.
DeCock didn’t know what his new friend said, but he had an inner assurance that he would see him again one day in heaven.
Tongues of Proclamation
When Mark Rutland travelled to Mexico on a short-term missions trip, he was in for quite a surprise. With him on the trip were a few American ministers, a translator, the host missionaries, Jim and Helen Mann, and his father-in-law.
The first few days Rutland preached in some local, rural churches with an interpreter’s assistance. The Spirit moved, and people encountered the Lord, but nothing unusual took place. Then one evening a miracle happened. The group was scheduled to leave for a small mountain village to preach, but the interpreter didn’t show up. Though the host missionaries spoke some Spanish, their linguistic ability wasn’t adequate to translate an entire sermon. Rutland only knew a few Spanish phrases. Nevertheless, the group decided to make the journey, hoping someone there could translate for Rutland.
When they arrived, they found a small church of no more than 70 believers. There was no interpreter, so they decided to ask the church’s pastor to preach. Before the pastor took the pulpit though, Rutland decided to greet the congregation with his few memorized Spanish phrases. As he spoke, he realized there was something else he could say in Spanish. At first, he thought he must have picked it up during previous services. But he just kept speaking. The pastor, who knew Rutland couldn’t speak Spanish, stood and declared to the church that a miracle was happening.
As Rutland kept speaking, his father-in-law stood up from the back row and asked, “What are you doing?”
“It’s the Lord!” answered Rutland. “Something’s going on! It’s a miracle, I think.”
He continued delivering his message in Spanish, understanding the words he spoke. It was as if he now knew Spanish. When he finally gave the altar call, his father-in-law was the first to come forward. After returning home, Rutland’s father-in-law joined a Pentecostal church in Tallahassee, Fla. And though Rutland never took any Spanish courses, the Spanish he spoke that day has never left him.
Pentecostals acknowledge that speaking in tongues may be a “heavenly prayer language” known only to God.4
First Corinthians 14:2 says: “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit”
Yet there is evidence to suggest that tongues may also be, at times, known human languages.5 With nearly 7,000 languages in the world, not to mention the 100,000 languages that are now extinct, it is reasonable that the miracle of Pentecostal tongues is still expressed through known human languages today.
Critics may discount these testimonies, but the lives of the witnesses are forever changed. Whether it’s a word of deliverance, word of confirmation, etc., the conclusion in these testimonies is compelling. As on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit still inspires believers to speak in other tongues as witnesses offer the same amazing testimony: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11).
1. Los Angeles Daily Times (April 18, 1906): 1.
2. John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 154.
3. Jordan Daniel May, Global Witnesses to Pentecost: The Testimony of “Other Tongues” (Cleveland, Tennessee: Cherohola Press, 2013).
4. Some, like John MacArthur, claim this to be a modern notion. But Pentecostals have always believed that tongues may be a “heavenly prayer language.” See, for example, “Apostolic Faith Restored: Article II — Modern Tongues in Bible Light,” in The Weekly Evangel (January 8, 1915): 4–5.
5. Other such testimonies are reported in these works: Ralph W. Harris, Spoken by the Spirit: Documented Accounts of “Other Tongues” from Arabic to Zulu (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1973) and Acts Today: Signs and Wonders of the Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1995), 107–130.
JORDAN DANIEL MAY, Assemblies of God correctional chaplain, Raleigh, North Carolina