Hearing God in Different Languages

The author with the bilingual children’s book Quaker Meeting and Me. Photos courtesy of the author.

Spiritual messages, whether heard when vocal ministry is given or when reading spiritual writing, inspire and encourage us to have close communion with God. This fact I learned at an early age when I was introduced to the path of God in two different languages. Later in my life, the Light of Christ guided me to do translation work for my Quaker community. I have translated my native language into Spanish and vice versa, and translated Spanish into English and vice versa. For me, carrying a message from one language into another is a gift. I experience the message, and also how precious it is to offer it in another tongue.

As a child, hearing the voice of God in two different languages made me feel as if I had arrived at heaven’s door and had talked with God. I grew up bilingual. At home, my family and I spoke Aymara, one of the 36 native languages in our country of Bolivia. I spoke Spanish 90 percent of the time at elementary school. Living in a rural town where people around me spoke two different languages made me a blessed person because I had the opportunity to enjoy two different worlds at the same time. Moreover, I worshiped in a bilingual service every Sunday. My soul loved bilingual sermons and teachings whenever a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, or a fellow Friend stood up to speak about God. 

In my yearly meeting, Iglesia Evangélica Misión Boliviana de Santidad Amigos, we have a whole day worship service. We usually begin our programmed worship time together at 9:00 a.m. Then there is a lunch break or fellowship time at noon. In the afternoon, we gather again for worship at 2:00 p.m. After the worship of the day is over at 4:00 p.m., I always feel rich in Spirit: often I can recall some of the nice conversation experiences with God during the worship time; for example, I told God, “Jumatawa ma suma amigoxaja”; “Tu eres mi buen amigo”; “You are my friend.” Thus, uttering words in different languages and hearing the voice of God in Aymara, Spanish, and English has encouraged me to help out with translating Quaker writings, as well as be an interpreter among Friends.

International Quaker Youth letters translated by the author last year.

There is one more reason I started doing interpretation work as ministry within our Quaker community. I was a teenager when I began interpreting. My fellow Friends and I liked doing outreach for our Friends church. Some Fridays, I used to join with Friends to reach out with the Word of God in small towns where mainly Aymara was spoken. Most of the adult Friends in my outreach group were not able to read Spanish, so I volunteered to read the Bible for them, as well as do some interpretation when we visited homes or talked with people on the streets. 

When I was studying English at the university, my ministry of translation and interpretation became part of my life. At that time, I was part of a Quaker Bolivian organization. Whenever we had U.S. or UK Friends visit, they often asked me to translate from Spanish to English or vice versa in meetings and in Friends churches. I remember that sometimes I was afraid of taking on this task because I did not want to misinterpret the content of the message. Doing translation work for a faith community was different from translating secular letters and other documents. I believe the Lord gives me wisdom, and I love to do all types of work in ministry, so I kept helping as an interpreter.

Translating Quaker writings became my main focus in 2016 as part of my commitment to the Religious Society of Friends. In prayers, I held how this translation work could be done. In that year, some young adult Friends and I opened Centro Bilingüe Internacional Amigos, or Friends International Bilingual Center (FIBC). We have taught languages, led workshops for pastors and teachers, and had special classes for children at this center; we have also translated various international Quaker writings into both Spanish and English. Some of our translation work consists of books, pamphlets, curriculum for First-day schools, video transcripts, and essays.

Bolivia, which is a developing country, has one of the largest Quaker communities, with more than 20,000 Friends. There are hundreds of children and young adult Friends in our yearly meetings, so there is a need to strengthen Christian education at both the monthly meeting and yearly meeting level. There are few Bolivian Quaker writings (books, pamphlets, and curricula) written in Spanish. One way we help our Bolivian Friends is by making translated Quaker materials available for them. We also translate writings of Latino Friends. Therefore, the translated Quaker writings have been shared widely not only with Bolivian Friends but also with Friends from other countries.

Before a Quaker writing is translated, there is a process of discernment in Spirit. We translate Quaker materials on different topics, and they are addressed to children, young adult Friends, and adults. We translate old and modern Quaker writings. At FIBC, we celebrate every time a small or big translation work is accomplished because we know that there is a large group of Friends waiting to get the translated book, pamphlet, etc. For instance, our experience in translating the book Quaker Meeting and Me was blessed in Bolivia and in other countries, and we heard from children and their teachers how much they loved reading it. Currently we are working on an essay called “The Peace Testimony” that was written by a Friend from England. We hope to release it by the end of this year. All the translated material is provided to Friends in both printed and digital versions, allowing us to reach more readers, with the favor of God.

I believe language is not a barrier to sharing our faith, experiences, and love with Friends across the world. A Friend who speaks another language can understand both oral and written messages in Spirit. Nowadays, international communication within our wider Quaker community is possible because of the technology era; this opens the way to find richness of Quaker writings from different Quaker backgrounds. For instance, I grew up as an Evangelical Friend, but I love reading pieces by unprogrammed Friends, both Liberal and Conservative Friends. Early Quaker writings make me feel as though I live with them in Spirit. Modern Quaker writings challenge me to live out my faith faithfully. Thus, this is the reason I am so happy to do translation work and to be an interpreter among Friends.

Emma Condori Mamani

Emma Condori Mamani was born into a Bolivian Quaker family and graduated from Earlham School of Religion. She is a linguist and a writer. Her book Quakers in Bolivia: The Early History of Bolivian Friends explores the soul of Friends. She works at Friends International Bilingual Center (centrobilingueinternacionalamigos.org).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Maximum of 400 words or 2000 characters.

Comments on Friendsjournal.org may be used in the Forum of the print magazine and may be edited for length and clarity.