Hard to Translate, Part 3

Today I wrote out my sermon for this weekend’s church service in Chambellan, Haiti. Preparing remarks to be read (by yours truly) in another culture, in another language, is a real test of verbal skill. I think I threw out about 60 percent if my English vocabulary because I wasn’t sure if my words would translate. Interestingly, the more words I used, the less certain I was that my sentences would translate. So I kept hitting the delete key and changing my terms.

In case you’re interested, I’m very briefly talking about encouragement and righteousness based on the first half of Philippians 1. I wanted to pick something that would be of encouragement to the church there, so I chose the verse where Paul is talking about how God would complete His good work in the Philippian believers.

As I was writing this morning, I couldn’t help but think of the authors of New Testament writ and how they wrote to churches. I’ve always known that the length of their letters was based largely on the length of paper they were writing on. But the tone of their letters — the authoritative demeanor — may not have been based solely on apostolic authority. It may have had something to do with language as well. The fewer words we use, the clearer the intention comes through. The more demanding the sentences sound, too. There wasn’t much room for flowery language or tactful transmission. The writers had to get to their points and not mess around. I started thinking this way7 as I read over my words to the church in Chambellan. I cut out the flowery language and big words and, suddenly, the sentences took on an authoritative tone — something I didn’t want. I’m an outsider. Not even on the pastoral payroll of Crossroads. Who am I to sound like a spiritual authority? They probably know a heck of a lot more about faith than I! Yet when you edit out extraneous language, you get authority. Interesting. So I softened a few things up while still eliminating big words and I hope it comes across as being from Paul or Jesus and not just John.

As a side note, I translated my message into Haitian Creole via Google and it was a monster. My plan to read my message in their native language will be a major task. Please pray for me. I really want to do it for them. I think they will be blessed by my feeble effort. I hope I don’t have to bail out in the middle and rely on a translator! I may have to start asking, “Ou comprende Creole Texian? (Do you understand Texan Creole?)”

Maybe I’ll bring a Dr Pepper and introduce them to Texas living. Maybe not.

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