And sometimes words fail them anyway

They have the last word, yet nobody sees them. They listen and talk at the same time and all of this in two languages. How do interpreters experience the transmission of a divine service like we just had over Pentecost 2016?

On a walking tour through eastern Europe in 20 steps: the office doors are closed. But as you walk past them you can hear the quiet murmur of voices—every few metres in another language. While the Pentecost service is being celebrated in Frankfurt am Main, interpreters are busy at the premises of Bischoff Publishers in Neu-Isenburg doing an oral translation of the service. Twenty-one languages are being added to the Europe-wide video that is being broadcast from the Congress Center in Frankfurt.

Not translators, but interpreters

Translators? They don’t like to hear that. The correct term is interpreter. The disciplines are related. Both translate from one language into another—but in different settings. While a translator works on written text and can think about the wording she is going to use and go back and correct and polish, an interpreter has to decide on the spot and process the information she is receiving in the source language while outputting in the target language. What she says is cast in stone.

A tough job, one that about 30 volunteers from all parts of Europe—from Portugal to Russia—did over Pentecost. They came by car or train on Saturday. Some who had a long way flew into Frankfurt. And most left on Sunday again.

Standard vocabulary and special cases

A monitor, headphones with a microphone, and a Bible: these are the tools of the trade with which these interpreters work. They are sitting in the offices that are normally occupied by the staff of Bischoff Publishers during the week. Of course the interpreters don’t have to think about standard vocabulary. The French interpreter knows that the German word Stammapostel (= Chief Apostle) is l’apôtre-patriarche in his mother-tongue.

Yet in practice the sermon can cause an interpreter headaches, Friedrich Krauss says. For example, when an English-speaking Apostle preaches about the difference between sacrifice and offering. The German language only has one word for this concept, the 50-year old says. He has been active as an interpreter for the Church since 1986—practically since he left school.

The wages: gratitude from one’s fellow countrymen

During Holy Communion for the departed, Natasha Gann was so moved that words failed her. Nertila Sadikay, who is sitting next to her, reaches over and takes over the microphone. The two are mother and daughter, 61 and 39 years of age, and are doing the interpreting together. Natasha Gann was the first Albanian national to become New Apostolic. She has been interpreting since 1991.

The interpreters do the oral translation of divine services in an honorary capacity. Also Jacky Mappus. The 63-year-old Frenchman is a quite an institution among the interpreters. He has a degree in German studies and has been putting his language skills at the service of the Church and its members since 1971. Since 1988 he has been in the employ of the Church administrative offices. But when it comes to interpreting divine services, he receives the same wages as everyone else: gratitude from his fellow countrymen.

Like a big family

Part of the motivation is the joy of being able to help the brothers and sisters, Friedrich Krauss confirms. But the joy of working with language is also part of it, Jacky Mappus says. And Nertila Sadikay adds: “We want to touch the brothers and sisters as the Chief Apostle would have done had he spoken their language.”

The interpreters are not really exhausted after the two-hour service. They are still running on adrenalin—something that will keep them going for a while. They have all come together for lunch. “We are like a big family,” Natasha Gann says. They have known each other for years and some have even invited each other for wedding anniversaries and other family celebrations.

As they sit together talking and relaxing, they tell the one or other anecdote, like when the officiant forgot to pronounce the absolution and the interpreter just slipped it in. Or Chief Apostle Fehr’s amused smile and comment to an experienced interpreter: “So, I finally managed to make you run out of words …”

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