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Interpreters Raise Church Voices

The United Methodist Church has members all over the world. When delegates meet every four years for the denomination’s General Conference, business is conducted in English and translated into eight more languages. Meet the people who make sure every voice is heard.

This video was produced with footage from General Conference in Tampa in 2012.

(Tampa, Florida)
(Voice of woman speaking on floor) “I read through 1400 pages. I counted 91 petitions.”

The 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa hosted the largest-ever number of delegates from outside of the United States.

(delegate) “I am Domingo, from the newly recognized annual conference in southern, The Philippines.”

From sound booths on the meeting floor, a team of interpreters translated the proceedings in real time. 

(Korean booth interpreter)
(German booth interpreter)

Don Reasoner, Director of Multilingual Resources, Board of Global Ministries: “There are nine languages being used. English is the main floor operational language that all the business is conducted in, but we also then have American Sign Language, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swahili.” 

A total of 150 interpreters, many volunteers, lent their skills over the two-week session.
(Rev. Kiboko works in interpreter’s booth)
The Reverend J. Kambaba Kiboko’s translates Swahili and French.
The Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, Swahili Interpreter, Southern Congo Episcopal Area:
“The hardest part is when somebody is using inflammatory language, when somebody gets so passionate. What I do, when somebody is going, ‘rahrahrahrah?’ I go softly. I go softly.”

(Rev. Williams works in interpreter booth)
The Rev. Larry Williams grew up in a missionary family. This is Williams’ third General Conference as part of the Portuguese language team. 
The Rev. Larry Williams, Portuguese Translator, Missouri Conference Elder, U.S.A.:
 “You listen carefully. You quickly translate in your head the meaning of the words. Then you find the meaning of the sense in the right idiom of the language it needs to go into. Then while you’re speaking, you’re also listening to the next sentence so that you can do that again. So it’s a cycle that’s pretty intense if you’re doing simultaneous translation.”

Williams admits there’s more to it than meets the ear.
The Rev. Larry Williams, Portuguese Translator:
 “Angola, Mozambique, and Portugal may use similar words for very different meanings. An example, the word in Portuguese for shepherd and for pastor is the same one. So whenever they use pastor, in their Portuguese speaking, we have to think, ‘Are they talking about a shepherd or a pastor, an ordained person?’”

And then there are the added nuances of church speak. For this reason Don Reasoner, who is in charge of staffing, tries to recruit church members.

Don Reasoner: “They need to know not only church language, but also Methodist connectionalism, how to speak Methodism. (laughs). One example I’ve used many times is a charge conference has a lot to do with power, but nothing to do with electricity. Or just terms within our church. You know, you’re not gonna find ‘connectionalism’ in the dictionary.”  

The connections Williams likes to see are the ones that happen in the hallways.

(Williams interprets for women)

(African woman speaks) Rev. Larry Williams: “She’s a clergy delegate from Angola…”

The Rev. Larry Williams: “There’s gonna be a connection across emails. An invitation has already been extended for folks to visit one another. And that’s the neat part. We don’t have enough chances to do that because people are insulated in their language.”
(Women hug and say goodbye) “Nice to meet you.” (hug) “Nice to meet you.”
Kiboko is grateful to the church for making sure delegates from every country know their voices are heard.

The Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, Swahili Interpreter, Southern Congo Episcopal Area:
 “I thank them and I thank The United Methodist Church for the generosity to really open the door, open the hearts, open the minds, and have the Swahili at General Conference. This is radical hospitality.”

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee.
Contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on July 3, 2012.

United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

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