Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 24, 2012

Indispensable Interpreters

Tenali, India

Speaking thru interpreter. | 1995 | Ukraine

The language-barrier can be one of the most frustrating aspects of travel. Airline magazines almost always advertise the latest language aids — from software that promises to have you speaking conversational Mandarin in weeks to iPhone apps for those in a bit more of a hurry. Among the best experiences I have had while traveling and speaking in many countries is that of communicating through an interpreter. An interpreter is someone who provides an oral translation between those who speak different languages and certainly much more dynamic than any smart-phone app. A good interpreter makes all the difference in how effectively you can communicate your message. Even better, a really good interpreter can keep you from making a fool of yourself by correcting any cultural verbal faux pas on the fly and before they reach the listeners’ ears.

On two of my three visits to Ukraine in the mid-90’s, a Jewish university professor served as my translator. As I preached in various places she often wept as she translated my words, occasionally turning to me and saying how wonderful Jesus was. Sadly, she resisted trusting Christ for fear of offending her parents. On another occasion in Ukraine, my good friend Dr. Jerry Squyres preached about the woman at the well, a story from the fourth chapter of John’s gospel. When he told his interpreter the subject of his message the young man returned a puzzled look. Because of Jerry’s southern accent the interpreter had heard him say “the woman at the whale” and reminded Jerry that it was Jonah and not a woman who was in the whale.  On more than a few occasions while speaking in Muslim nations, my interpreters have coached me on effective ways to communicate biblical truth. A good interpreter is invaluable!

Daniel interpreting for Raul.

The first time I preached in India in 1998, I thought that my audience was disagreeing with every word that proceeded out of my mouth. Afterwards I lamented to my interpreter that I had failed to communicate effectively because everybody was shaking their heads to indicate disagreement. He put his hand on my shoulder, laughed, and told me the folks loved the message and then explained the Indian head-bob gesture to me. Since then I have spoken many times in India and have learned a lot about Indian culture from my interpreters. For the past two days my friend Raul Reyes, Vice-President of Equipping at Life International, and I have led the introductory sessions on the sanctity of human life for a group of local leaders who work with Harvest India. We have been privileged to work with a young man named Daniel, one of the best interpreters that I have ever met. This young man can translate English into Telugu at lightning speed and mimic every gesture and emotion. When you get into a speaking rhythm with a fantastic interpreter like Daniel, communication is seamless.

I am thankful for all of the interpreters I have met over the years and for what they have taught me about their respective cultures and the dynamics of their respective languages. In spite of what I hear on the evening news, I tend to think more positively about the nations in part because of having worked with so many good interpreters on my travels, men and women who care deeply about their families and communities. I am grateful for their help in communicating God’s good news. Without the help of these indispensable interpreters, communication would certainly be much more difficult. So, this is something of a mass thank you note to the dozens of interpreters who have assisted me over the years and who have reminded me that I am a part of a larger and wonderful family of Christ-followers.

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