I’ve been to India seven times and have had some great interpreters. Most are very fluent in both my language, as well as their native tongue and maybe multiple languages. With some we really click. Before I am finished my sentence they are starting to interpret it and before they are done, I’m starting on my next point.
One interpreter, an Indian evangelist, who did a fairly nice job for me on several occasions this year, asked if he could have my book in English. I was fine with that since I had an additional copy. As I was about to say “yes” he added, I don’t read Telugu. What?! I thought. How is that possible? He just translated me into that language. He informed me that he can’t read it but he can speak it. He’s from another state. India has 29 states and most have their own language (22 official languages with 150 other languages with a sizable speaking population, out of 1,652 mother tongues).
Then there those who struggle. At a house church I was informed that the pastor’s daughter would do the translation for me. She was a 9th grader and spoke English exceptionally clear. Before the sermon she whispered in my ear what the folks were testifying and their prayer requests. But when the sermon began she lasted about 5-minutes before deferring to her father. It’s one thing to translate a casual conversation, it’s quite another for a sermon. After the service, both my handler and I greatly encouraged her. She can build on experiences like this.
On another occasion it was introduced that a pastor would translate for me. We both sat down and he could not translate the very first comment I made despite me repeating it and making several changes so that he would understand. He just stared at me like I was an alien (I guess, technically, I am). He was immediately replaced with a dear man of God who, I am sure, has a wonderful pastoral ministry, but he struggled with some of the words asking several times – “what did you say.” That can be unsettling when you have to stop and explain what you just said. Not sure if it is as annoying to the listener, but it sure does break-up the flow of the sermon.
Of course, the speaker needs to be cognizant of the translator. All of us have gone way too long with an extended sentence or paragraph leaving the interpreter in the dust. I received a note during one of my first experiences with just two words on it –“slow down.” Probably the funniest line on this trip was made by one of our pastors from North Carolina. When being translated you break up your paragraphs into bite-sized pieces by pausing. On occasion the pause might be misplaced as when he said: “I don’t know if you have any people in your church.” The next phrase started with “who are . . .” But he left the impression that they had no people in their church. I’m still chuckling over that faux pas.
One last illustration took place at a church while I was giving what I thought would be a perfect illustration since it was about a problem in their country. The translator didn’t understand the illustration and had me repeat it. I’m a communicator. I know how to tell a story or an illustration. After hearing it the second time he said – “Move on.” I knew what he meant. There was no way this story was going to work to these village folks.
It can be a major hurdle to share Christ with people of another language. Kind of wish the gift of tongues, which the Day of Pentecost believers had, would be available to us like turning on a switch and, instantly being understood.
For the most part, however, our unsaved friends speak our language. So, this barrier to sharing Christ is not a problem.
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