Preaching through a translator

Let us take advantage of every opportunity to give the last warning message, not only to every nation and kindred but to every tongue and people—even those within the borders of our own land.

Evangelist,Texas Conference.  At present on loan for evangelism in Minnesota.

THE following words spoken by R. H. Pierson, at that time president of the Texas Confer­ence, started my brother and me off on an adventure in mission field soul winning right here in the United States: "I want you men to try a campaign among the Spanish-speaking people of our conference. I believe it will work, and you will thoroughly enjoy it. If it doesn't, I won't ask you to hold another one." Not that it hadn't been done be­fore, but we had never done it, and we were eager to try anything new that might hasten the Saviour's return.

Plans were laid for two campaigns, one in Corpus Christi and one in Carrizo Springs, Texas. The first was to be a regular three-week short effort, and the latter to be the equivalent of a three-week effort spread out over six weeks. We alternated nights between Carrizo Springs in Spanish and Crystal City in English.

In Corpus Christi we printed a handbill, one side in Spanish and the other in English. The formal announcements were printed in Spanish and sent to the best interests. The church had been praying for the meetings, and the week before the meetings began the members spent many hours inviting their neighbors and friends.

The auditorium was at the rear of a school. We feared that the people might be unable to find it, but the pastor assured us that the people would come. And he was right. In looking at our records o£ this particular campaign, we find there were 125 present the opening night. Not phenomenal, but we thanked the Lord for the nearly 50 per cent not of our faith who at­tended.

It was with great anxiety and trepidation that we approached the first meeting. How would we be accepted? What would it be like to sing and preach to a group, most of whom could not understand what we were saying? Would the people respond? Would they under­stand the message? We prayed as we planned and worked, and then we waited to see the response. And it was wonderful. The attendance held steady; in fact, those who came went home and told others and the attendance grew. The meetings closed twenty nights later with an attendance of 265.

We printed song sheets in both Spanish and English. And how interesting it was to hear both languages being sung at the same time. Our local pastor, B. L. Thompson, did the translating, and he did a fine job. Whether it was announcements or sermon, he put the same enthusiasm into the translation that was put into it by the speaker. And how vital this is. Usually the opening prayer was given in Span­ish, and the appeal prayer at the close of the sermon was given first by the speaker in English and then translated sentence by sen­tence.

The most difficult part of the preaching was keeping one's train of thought while being en­tranced with the work of the translator. But after a few nights this, too, became quite natu­ral. In fact, there are blessings in preaching through a translator. One can use only half the material he would normally use in an English lecture, since one half of the time is taken up in translation. Therefore, the preacher must express his thoughts in fewer words.

Getting Acquainted Through an Interpreter

After the opening sermon we invited those who had the time and were interested to come down to the front to shake hands with us and get acquainted. We asked the local pastor to stand with us and introduce us to those he knew and to translate for us if any cared to talk. Nearly all the audience waited in line to come by and shake hands with us. And of course we did our best to get acquainted. Within a few nights we were able to call most of the regular attenders by name, and this went a long way in making them feel that we really cared for them personally.

In the visitation we went with the local pas­tor or one of the consecrated laymen. He would act as interpreter for us, and the visiting was conducted as in any evangelistic campaign. Of course, it took a little longer than would be normal because of the two languages necessary.

We made no adjustment in subject material other than to soften some of the harsher terms. We presented the entire message, including the Spirit of Prophecy, in the public meetings, and at the end rejoiced to see several baptized and many others indicate an earnest desire to study further and prepare for baptism.

The meetings in Carrizo Springs were similar except for one or two points. They were held in a tent, and this attracted a larger attendance. And the translating was done by a consecrated layman. There were fewer in this series of meet­ings who spoke English. This time there was some opposition from the local priests, but the love of Jesus seen in the lives of those working in the meetings won the confidence of the peo­ple and they continued to come, and many were baptized.

Helpful Guiding Principles

There are several points that stand out vividly in our thinking as we look in retrospect over the meetings that were held.

First, to succeed in foreign-language evan­gelism takes the same qualifications that are necessary to success in foreign mission work. You must love the people and let them know you love them by treating them as equals. I'll never forget the feeling that came into my heart as one of the workers associated with us re­marked, "Do you know why we Spanish people love the Barron brothers? It is because they love us and are one of us." To love the people is the first step in gaining their confidence.

Second, we did our best to learn the names of those attending and took special trouble to pronounce them correctly. Then night after night as they would come to the meeting we would call them by their name. We also picked up enough of the common words of salutation to be able to greet them in their own language and ask how they were. This also was deeply appreciated.

Third, we realized that now as always, simple, easy-to-understand language is the best to use in presenting the wonderful message of God. Fortunately, this did not present any problem, for that was the only kind of language we knew how to use. But particularly with some lan­guage groups, the more down-to-earth the pres­entation is, the easier it is for them to compre­hend and remember.

Fourth, we soon learned that all Scripture passages do not read the same in other transla­tions. Thus we found it helpful to spend a few minutes before the sermon going over the texts of Scripture with the translator. Use only those texts that give the same thought in both lan­guages.

Fifth, we found that human hearts are the same everywhere and can be reached by the same appeals, regardless of the language. Even the calls for surrender were accepted and given a ready response, though we were working through a translator.

Sixth, we found that pictures have a univer­sal appeal. The pictures we used were in sound and color, and had English dialogue, but the people came early to see them.

We discovered that R. H. Pierson was right. We enjoyed our campaign among Spanish-speaking people so much, and received such a blessing, that we would highly recommend for­eign-language evangelism to others. Language need be no barrier if two persons can team together, one who can preach and one who can translate. Surely the hour is late and the needs in our foreign-language areas are great. Let us take advantage of every opportunity to give the last warning message, not only to every nation and kindred but to every tongue and people—even those within the borders of our own land.


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Evangelist,Texas Conference.  At present on loan for evangelism in Minnesota.

April 1960

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