Worship leader in Simleu

Being heard (Romania blog 3)

It is a mistake to think that what we say is automatically what’s heard. After all, preaching is more than delivering sermons on a Sunday. To be a preacher is to be a herald, an announcer or a purveyor of God’s news to people who are hungry for its message.

I was making this point on my recent trip to rural Romania (here) and drawing some parallels between an English town crier and someone who proclaims the word of God. At this point my translator went off on a tangent all of her own. I spoke one sentence, she spoke ten. When the interlude was over I glanced at her

“Is there a problem?” I said, fearing another cultural gaffe.

“Oh no,” she said “We have criers too, except our criers use drums instead of bells – I was just explaining that.”

It was incidents like this, and there were plenty of them, which exemplify the hazards of speaking through an interpreter. As a speaker I can never be absolutely sure that what the audience hears is what I intend – although all of our translators couldn’t be faulted.

Consider this. Our Bible has already been through several translation steps. Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the gospels were written in Greek and we use them in English (or Romanian). So is it any wonder that some of the nuances of the original have been diluted or even lost in translation.

This makes communicating the message less straightforward, whether in a Sunday sermon or elsewhere. Teaching people how to preach in a language and a culture that is not my own is therefore fraught with danger. Did they ‘hear’ what I ‘spoke’ or did the Romanian words carry different implications? Did the nuance of my analogy (and as English speakers we use piles of them) carry the weight of meaning I attach to it? It’s often hard to tell.

But I noticed something else going on here. When my translator was unpacking the parallels between their criers and us as preachers, I observed how intently the audience was listening to her. She was animated and they were locked in to her words. Ian Crossley and I were teaching in a Romanian Christian culture where there is not widespread acceptance of women as preachers. Indeed some church are actively hostile to the idea.

It struck me, however, that that was exactly what she was doing. I even wondered whether my voice was necessary at all! Of course the words she expanded on originated from a male voice, and that gave them initial legitimacy. But I hope that one day she, and women like her, will be accepted as valid heralds of the Word of Life.