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Order in the Chaos

by Jane Doe

I have just returned from a five-week stint in South Asia, a place I never dreamed would become so indelibly etched in my heart. The workshops were a beautifully jumbled flurry of activity. Mother-Tongue Translators (MTTs) had come from four separate language projects to have their translations checked and to attend English classes. At the same time, a number of foreigners had come to attend the first Translation Consultant Development Workshop (TCDW) in the country.

Translation workshops

I was surprised to see just how much happened at a translation workshop. Obviously, translation was a big part: MTTs brought their translated portions or stories to be checked by consultants for clarity, accuracy, naturalness and acceptability. These translations had already been checked within their communities.

There was a lot of academic work. MTTs had classes every day to help them grow in their faith and become better translators. English was taught so that they could use English translation tools and resources. Some of the them were working toward academic degrees in translation awarded by a local university. These credentials will equip them for future life even after the translation work is complete.

The workshop provided leadership training. The MTTs organised and facilitated many components of daily life such as the morning storytelling devotions and team reports. They also took charge of Sunday services, Testimony times and Fun Nights where everyone could laugh, dance, and de-stress. The community of the workshop was a safe place to practise and develop useful leadership skills.

MTTs leave workshops with many tools for translating the Word into their language and to effect transformation in their communities. They carry back booklets of the work they have done, storybooks for literacy projects and community development, and the intangible skills to be leaders in their families, churches and villages. God equips his people and sends them out, armed with his Word. It is beautiful.

My role in the TCDW

When I first agreed to help at this workshop, it was to help teach Semantics. Great, I thought, I could put my Linguistics degree to work and it was an area I could succeed in. But shortly before the workshop, I found they already had enough people to teach Semantics. Would I be interested in helping as a Translation Advisor in Training (TAT) instead? What was a TAT? No one had a clear description that I could understand, but I agreed anyway.

A TAT was a new role, and I was a guinea pig! In essence, the TAT’s role was to help clean up the translation in a pre-check so that the consultants, who were often under extreme time pressure, could quickly identify the most important issues. This would speed up the translation process. After all, the goal was to get the Word out there!

An important part of that clean up was to make sure that the back translations were consistent with the MTTs’ language. The MTT’s translation would have been translated into the national language and then into English to make it accessible to English-speaking consultants. With so many languages in play, the potential for confusion was high. Often we would find that something had been lost in back translation!

It was a steep learning curve for me. God pulled me out of my comfort zone to a place He could succeed in using me. Then, a few weeks in, some of the students needed help writing their project essays and I was thankful to be able to help, but now clearly knowing it was not in my own strength.

Some thoughts

I was continually struck by the closeness fostered by the community at this workshop. Every person there had known loss, loneliness or isolation in some form. Even so, as hard as we worked – and we worked hard! – the workshop was a place of spiritual renewal and encouragement for individuals spread thin in their responsibilities at home.

Last October, my husband was posted to a South Asian country and I followed him there. This was not what I wanted to do. I didn’t know anyone there and found the culture extremely difficult to adjust to. Now I see that if not for the struggles and growth I encountered in moving to another country, I would never have been prepared for the time at this workshop. In fact, after meeting other brothers and sisters from my new “home country” at the workshop, I find I can love it more. God is softening my hard, selfish heart.

He is also showing me what true discipleship looks like. Who in their right mind would go to a dangerous place with harsh living conditions to work their fingers to the bone for nothing? It just doesn’t make sense without God. But after five weeks, it was so incomprehensibly rewarding that I didn’t want to leave.

And if God calls me back, how can I say no?

Jane Doe is a little crazy. She has long had an interest in Bible Translation and has volunteered with Wycliffe Singapore for a number of years. Last year, she followed her husband to the exotic region of South Asia. Since writing this, she has been invited to help at the workshop again, and she has said “Yes!”

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