What Preaching through a Translator Taught Me about Christmas

Years ago, I preached at a conference in a remote area of Brazil and it was one of those experiences that profoundly impacted me since that time. I have not looked at the world, the church, myself or my faith in exactly the same way afterword. I was richly blessed by the passion of people who were willing to walk for hours to hear the Word preached,  

I preached my sermons through a translator since I don’t know Portuguese. My first translator was a young Brazilian woman. We were different genders, cultures, professions, and possessed different life stories. She was my way into the culture and the people. I needed her heart, her mind, and her mouth and she needed mine as well. I could not reach the people without her. She could not reach the people without me either.

I came to the people of Brazil through my translator. Being translated is painstaking work for both parties. I had to present my thoughts in fragments, bit-by-bit, and her work of translating was more difficult than the adjustment I had to make regarding my speaking rhythm. My translator would sometimes encounter a word for which there was no easy Portuguese equivalent and she would scramble to provide a succinct definitional replacement.

I could not help but think of the incarnation as this was happening. Christ, God the eternal Son in flesh. It was His way into the culture and our lives. He uses our hearts, our minds, and our mouths in order to reach the people. We need His words in order to teach them truth. John tells us, Jesus came as the “Word became flesh” dwelling among us (John 1:14). As the living Word, Jesus explains the Father to us and He explains us to ourselves. It is through Christ and His Word that we know who we are and why we act the way we do. He has put accurate names to our experience of life and who we are in this world.

The experience of being translated requires a great deal of trust. The translator must listen accurately and speak truly. The translator must know two languages. A translator must know how to communicate both the words and heart of the one being represented. The speaker relinquishes a measure of control and trusts the translator will take what is presented and accurately deliver it in such a way that the speaker is not misrepresented. The reputation of the speaker is in the hands of the translator. The translator also profoundly impacts the relationship the speaker has with the individuals in the audience.

Is this not something like our lives as Christians? Are we not representatives and translators of God in this world? We must listen accurately and speak truly to the world. We must know the language of heaven and the language of men. Our lives and mouths are to communicate the words of God and the heart of God to the world. We represent Him and He has entrusted us with His reputation in this world. Others know Him and experience Him through our lives and our words.

I wanted the people to hear the truth in my preaching. I wanted my listeners to get an accurate set of truths from God’s Word. The lives of the people and the lives of many others would be impacted by what the translator gave them. What a glimmer into the heart of our God for our lives. He has given us His heart and His words. Does He not long for us to represent His truths and His heart to others well?


By |December 21st, 2018|Categories: Blog, Featured|

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today