Interpreter: translates orally
Translator: interprets written text
After a year of living life differently, I am looking back at my one-year journey of serving in the bilingual (English and Chinese) interpretation ministry of our church. A ministry that I committed to after overcoming the initial apprehension and resistance.
I am not new to the ministry as I started serving in the bilingual service of our church (Blessed 300 of BCCM KK) since the early days of my faith journey. I continued to serve for many years even after the service became a church of her own (the then BCCM Likas) until about 7 years ago. The one and only reason that held me back this time round at my own church was the requirement to speak in Mandarin while throughout my previous serving, I was known as one of the English interpreters!
I used to think that my Chinese was just rusty because I did not get to speak often enough. Listening and understanding well is vastly different from actually speaking the language especially when it is not being spoken frequently or correctly. In the occasions that I do converse in Mandarin, more often than not my sentences are a mixture of Chinese with dialect and/or English and Malay words as well as mispronounced words. We mix the languages freely and do it naturally as we take for granted that our local listeners understand us perfectly (think the famous line with 4 languages: “Wei macha, you want to makan here or tapau?”). Our multilingual ability seems to have become a stumbling block for many where perfecting any one particular language is concerned. We become lazy and are no longer bothered to master any of the languages but simply taking the easy way out.
When I tried to determine how good my Chinese was and only then the realisation hit me, my vocabulary was limited! For many of the words I resorted to expressing them in other languages or explaining lengthily while the cold hard truth was, I had no clue what the exact Chinese words/expressions were!
Thank God there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens!
new journey in new season
When our country went into a partial lockdown last March, our church service was brought to the internet and we started our service online. That was when I was gradually introduced to the various ways we could serve in this particular ministry.
The first thing I was tasked to do which I thought was manageable, was the translation of the prayer points to Chinese. Believe it or not, a 3-minute prayer took me the whole morning, i.e. 2-3 hours to complete initially.
I turn to the internet for help for many of the Chinese biblical jargons. Mr Google is my best friend while Mr Google Translate on the other hand, is what I rely on for “cutting and pasting” only. One can never take the translated words from Google Translate literally or we risk presenting an absurd piece of translation. I was also coached to ensure that my translation is not only correct but more importantly, concise so that when the church pray simultaneously in English and Chinese, they are almost matching in speed. I treasure the process of prayer translation as it laid the ground for confidence-building for my written Chinese.
After a couple of months, our preacher engaged me in the subtitles for the pre-recorded sermon to be aired on Sundays. Until I sat down to do the subtitles, never did I realise the amount of time and effort required. I now have a newfound respect for all the subtitle translators!
Although we are given the sermon notes, we might not be able to delve immediately into the translation without first listening to the recorded message especially when the speaker tends not to stick to the notes during the recording. In such case, the message needs to be transcribed first and that was when I lamented I did not learn the dying art of shorthand.
It takes me almost half a day to listen, play and rewind umpteenth times the recording before I have the whole sermon to work on. I then split the sentences one by one and translate accordingly to facilitate the media team for their subsequent works. I need altogether a full day and a half for the translation of a 25-30-minute sermon including transcribing and editing! I first thought I was doing it wrong for taking such a long time until the other translators assured me that I was not alone, and there was no shortcuts or tricks to it.
I dreaded the recording and refused to commit when the pastoral team was ready to get the interpreters involved for the pre-recorded sermon. I was not ready to expose all of my flaws on the internet and have people rewinding endlessly to view and laugh at my mistakes! Eventhough I knew our service was needed, I decided my vanity took precedence over serving. God whacked me when I had my conversations with Him and I repented, and submitted to the call to serve.
The recording was done on a Wednesday afternoon and I took time off from work to do it. We did not get a rehearsal and it was done with one time recording so that the media team could get on with the rest of the work without further delays.
My next hurdle then was to bring myself to watch it online which I found hard especially when I knew I had made tonnes of mistakes. However, there was no running away as I had to attend the Sunday service online!
When the situation of the pandemic improved, live streaming of the Sunday service started but with only the team involved as physical church was still disallowed. Our church resumed physical service only recently on Easter Sunday but it looks like the live streaming of our worship service is here to stay.
Live streaming is the most nerve-wracking as all eyes are on you as you speak. They always say I look calm before the service starts but I remind them every time how ducks swim — calm on the surface and paddle like mad underneath!
This one year of learning and growing in the art of interpretation and translation has been an interesting yet inspiring and humbling journey for me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I saw the silver lining in respect of this season of learning when the world came to almost a stand still a year ago. I started watching Chinese dramas during the early days of the lockdown when I had more time off from work. That was when the dormant memory of the knowledge I gathered years ago of the language I once loved was waken up. My confidence in speaking in Mandarin was reignited and boosted. I learned new words and corrected many of my mispronunciations. I now occasionally watch some western programmes with Chinese subtitles for more exposure and to hone my skills.
God was gentle and He gave me the time I needed to get ready. I found my footing and gained confidence in my own pace before I was eased into the position that I am in now.
I have loosened up and learnt to have a good laugh over my silly mistakes when I watch the aired videos, graciously accept the words of encouragement from the interpreter team and most of all, I praise God that I have been given the opportunity to serve!
1 Peter 4:10-11
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
I ran away like Jonah many times from my serving in the interpretation ministry over the years (this will be another story to tell) but every time I came back to where I started. As for this round, after the initial futile resistance which I have decided was the last time I allowed myself to misbehave, I will no longer run but to embrace my gift to serve.
I recalled my preacher encouraging me with her own similar experience when I was indecisive to make a commitment to serve many years ago. She said, “We might not be willing to do it or think what we do is simply too small to be impactful, but when someone, even if it’s just one person who’s being touched after hearing what we help interpret, it’s enough as we will have accomplished what God has called us to do!”
1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
I was looking too much at myself, too self-absorbed about my vanity and doubted my own ability to realise why I was called in the first place. It is never about my performance, how good or bad I do but what God wants from me. What God really desires are my obedience to answer His call, my surrendered heart to serve Him and my willingness to yield to His will, all for His glory!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, what are your gifts? Are you willing to answer the call and use the gifts God has bestowed upon you to serve Him? Remember, it is not about us, it is about Him!
23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.