MWC planners find right words
‘Walking with God’ theme crosses language barriersBy Emily Ralph Mennonite World Conference
HARRISBURG, Pa. — When planning a Mennonite World Conference assembly, you don’t want anything to get lost in translation.
But a committee’s task can be more difficult than it seems.
How could they find simple, memorable words to describe the theme of each day that meant the same thing in all of MWC’s worshiping languages?
Members of the Mennonite World Conference’s Program Oversight Committee encountered this challenge when they met in October in Pennsylvania to continue planning the 2015 assembly in Harrisburg.
Committee members represent churches from Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. Each speaks at least two languages and speaks English fluently.
Their first problem was deciding on a word to describe evangelism and social justice. Words that translated well into French, Spanish or Ndbele, the language spoken by committee member Thobekile Ncube of Zimbabwe, didn’t translate directly into German.
Other words described only speaking the good news of Jesus without including caring for the poor or working for justice as part of evangelism.
“When looking for a theme, we had wanted to use the word ‘story’ in the title,” said Liesa Unger of Germany, chief international events officer for MWC.
But they discovered the English word “story” would translate into “history” in many languages, and “history” was not what the team was trying to say. So they settled on the theme of “Walking with God.”
And so the work for clear communication continues for an event that will include as many as 10,000 people from 85 countries. Fiona Neufeld of Paraguay, one of Assembly 2015’s interpretation coordinators, joined the committee to plan translation for the event, which will be available for all worship services in Spanish, French and Portuguese.
Assembly planners are also aware of a challenging reality: For many of those traveling to the U.S. in 2015, these common languages are still not their first language. The team plans to celebrate this diversity by using other languages as part of the worship services.
MWC’s diversity of language and culture will also be celebrated through the Global Village, which, under the direction of Vikal Rao of India, will provide space for congregations from each continent to share their culture, food, worship practices and way of life.
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