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Digital Leap in LLC Mission Work in Ecuador

Aila Mikkola | The Voice of Zion November 2020 --

In recent years, professional life has been attempting to take a so-called digital leap towards greater use of digital technology: for distance working, online meetings, video conference calls and conference gatherings online.

Yet some people have been somewhat hesitant to take this digital leap. This is mostly due to one’s own technical skills and a lack of knowledge of technical equipment. For the past few years, I have been involved in LLC mission work in Ecuador as an interpreter. Services have been organized on-site in Ecuador. There were generally trips every six to eight weeks. Mission trips like this were the only format we knew.

At the beginning of 2020, everything changed. With COVID-19, everyone had to social distance and many people were forced to take a big digital leap. Schools moved their instruction online. People kept in touch with elderly parents via WhatsApp calls since they couldn’t visit them in person. People ordered groceries online and visited the doctor via video calls. Meanwhile, an upcoming mission trip to Ecuador was canceled and the ones after that were put on hold.

Test Services in April

In April, the LLC office organized “test” services for believers in Ecuador using Zoom. The technology worked well and the services were well received. The LLC approached us interpreters with a request to interpret online services every Sunday. My initial reaction was concern whether the platform and the connection would work well enough. Secondly, I wondered how I could interpret online, since I am used to interpreting live. Nonetheless I signed up for this duty along with other interpreters from Finland and North America.

We are happy to have some new interpreters join us as well, one of whom is Miranda Hendrickson. She described her involvement as follows: “After agreeing to be added to the translating schedule, I frantically began practicing. I was quite anxious, as it had been more than ten years since I’d spoken Spanish regularly. During the months prior to my turn, I practiced by listening to podcasts, speaking Spanish with other believing Spanish speakers via Zoom and by interpreting archived sermons.”

LLC provided us interpreters and ministers with guidelines on how to log on to Zoom and how to do what is necessary for the Sunday service. Prior to a service, the minister and interpreter can share the Bible text and other information on the WhatsApp group established by the LLC. This exchange is crucial to help the interpreter prepare.

The first online services in Spanish were organized on April 9, 2020. To everyone’s pleasant surprise, Zoom worked well, the interpretation worked out fine, and the service guests were able to see each other and hear God’s Word. The digital leap in mission work was successful!

Regular Sunday Services Became Possible for Many

The congregation in Ecuador kept coming to services every Sunday – in the morning U.S. time and evening Finnish time. Ministers from the U.S., Canada and Finland have served in turn. We interpreters attend the services to serve in our role of interpreting the services, but also to practice and improve language skills, especially religious vocabulary and expressions. Occasionally a minister who is not serving on a given Sunday will also attend the online services in order to meet believing Ecuadorian friends.

Ecuadorian believers express their gratitude for having services every Sunday. Alex Panizo of Quito says, “Maintaining online services has been an important step for congregations in Ecuador. This has allowed the believers in Quito, Guayaquil, Riobamba and Ambato to strengthen their faith and find spiritual peace in these uncertain times. In addition, it has allowed us to converse and learn about the health status of our fellow believers in Ecuador, the United States and Finland. It is beautiful to know that God’s blessing shelters us all in health and it has been rewarding to see each other every Sunday through a computer screen.”

Mario Mite from Guayaquil shares how important it is to have services every Sunday. “As the congregation in Ecuador still does not have their own minister,” says Mario in his WhatsApp voice message, “these services every Sunday have been a blessing to be in contact with the brothers and sisters in faith and also feel the unity and love between the believers. The services have also given us opportunity to ask for prayers of intercession for oneself and one’s family. Being able to attend services regularly without longer breaks has edified the Ecuadorian congregation and unity between local congregations in different parts of the country. It has also been a wonderful opportunity to see each other every Sunday to share the experiences of surviving with COVID-19. The virus has been very harsh in Ecuador and it has been a relief to see the other believers in good health online. Attending services has now become a regular habit in Ecuador as well,” says Mario.

“Although the internet has allowed us to be in contact and to converse, it has also highlighted the reality of my country,” says Alex. “In Ecuador, not everyone has access to the internet, either due to economic factors or the place of residence in rural areas. An example of this is the non-attendance of our indigenous brothers from the Riobamba congregation at Sunday services.”

From Different Sides of the Globe

Many speaker brothers have served both on mission trips and online services. One of them is Markus Lohi, who shared his experiences. “Online services have been a very positive experience. The translator, joining the call anywhere in the world, plays a key role in making everything go smoothly. It has been especially nice to have a moment after the services for the guests to participate in a brief discussion. Being able to see friends of faith through video makes it much more homey compared to audio only. Smiles and tears speak without words. Of course, the online service format does not allow hours and days of visiting with the locals in their everyday surroundings and the mutual encouragement found in that. But the format does serve well the main purpose of God feeding hungry souls with His living Word. It is amazing to join in mutual prayer and song to God from different sides of the globe.”

For some, the online services have been a way to reconnect with Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. For example, Miranda has traveled in Ecuador a few times years ago and met Ecuadorian believers. She says, “It has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with Ecuadorians.”

There are also Ecuadorians living in Finland. Lisbet, married to Paulus Mikkola, and her sister Evelin, have been able to see their family in online services. They say that “the services have been a very special experience. Although there have been times of uncertainty due to the pandemic, services have filled homes with faith and hope.” The sisters express their gratitude to the LLC for making this online union possible.

In their comments, Alex and Mario both give thanks to the interpreters. “An important factor in this process is the work of the interpreters. Without their help, we would not be able to meet every Sunday.”

Collaborative Community of Interpreters

Online interpreting has brought us interpreters closer together as well. Before this, many were just names on a list. Now we interpreters have our own gatherings online to practice Spanish and share information. We have also gotten to know each other better. Miranda comments, “I’ve gained new friends in some of the Spanish translators I’ve met from Finland.”

One positive aspect of the online services, according to interpreter Aino Vuonokari, is peer support from other interpreters. “When you are an interpreter on mission trips, you work mostly on your own. Zoom services makes it possible to get support from other interpreters.” Other interpreters can help with a missing word, or we can share the interpretation so that one interprets the sermon and the other interprets the short discussion after the sermon.

“This help is needed, since the interpretation online is more demanding than live interpreting, due to limited sound quality and due to the fact that online interpreting requires more concentration than translating live services,” says Aino.

Grateful to God

Most importantly, regardless of whether the services are online or onsite, God’s Word and the forgiveness of sins is the same. Gratitude to God in allowing us the possibility to attend services every Sunday comes up in every comment from Ecuadorian brothers and sisters. Mario says online services have been an excellent way to attend services, and he hopes these will continue even when it is again possible to arrange mission trips. “We leave everything in the hands of God,” says Juan Toapanta from Quito. “In this very difficult time that the world is going through, receiving services online is very good as it helps us increase our faith. We also ask God to give us strength and wisdom to believe in Him. We know that this all will pass and one day ministers will visit us again for the services.”

We are thankful that it has been possible to take this digital leap in mission work! We all share in Miranda’s comment: “It has been such a blessing to take part in the Ecuadorian online services.”

Thirty Zoom Connections

Matthew Keranen | The Voice of Zion November 2020 --

Greetings from Ecuador, and from the virtual services held with our brothers and sisters in Ecuador! They, like us, are largely confined to their homes and not able to gather. Services have been held online with them four times already using the Zoom meeting application.

God has blessed these services. The technology has served the purpose well and the services have been well received in Ecuador. Because mission trips are not currently possible, we plan to provide an online service each Sunday for the time being. Ministers and translators from North America and Finland will serve.

Keith Waaraniemi kept the online service last Sunday, May 3. There were nearly 30 Zoom connections to these services. Aino Vuonokari and Aila Mikkola translated. Keith spoke from Psalm 126. Song accompaniment was played from Keith’s iPad. Keith says, “It is heartwarming to see all our dear friends online! Kathy was able to join me for the first time at Ecuador services.”

Keith says the technology worked well except for a few brief moments. After the 45-minute service, there was over an hour of visiting and sharing greetings. Keith says it’s challenging to have spontaneous, personal discussions over a remote connection. He misses individual visits that are common after mission services on site.

Keith tells how in their discussions, Ecuadorian brother Alex shared that that their healthcare system is facing severe challenges. There are not enough healthcare professionals and there is not enough equipment. And citizens do not have money to pay for care. Another brother Teodoro reported that people must decide between staying safe at home, or going out to work and risking falling ill. Approximately sixty percent of the people are those who must go to work.

In Ecuador as well, believers understand that God is giving this time of trials. We remember our brothers and sisters in all countries in love and prayer. They remember us as well.

Interpreting vs. Translating

Readers will notice that the author of this writing refers to herself as an interpreter and to her profession as interpreting. We in North American Zion have commonly referred to this same role and profession as translator and translating. What is the difference?

An interpreter is a person who is trained to convert oral or spoken messages from one language to another. A translator, meanwhile, is a person who is trained to convert written text from one language to another. These two skills are also some people’s professions. Some professionals do both interpreting and translating, others specialize in one or the other.

Interpreting and translating both require an interest in or love of language and a deep knowledge of more than one language. Both are equally important in aiding people to understand messages – whether written or oral – that originate in another language.

The translator’s key skills include being able to understand written material and, using necessary reference material, render that material clearly and accurately into the target language. The translator must have good writing skills in the target language in order to preserve the message of the original text, including nuances, emphases and narrative devices.

The key skills of the interpreter include being able to “orally translate” or interpret from one language to another, in both directions, on the spot without using dictionaries or other reference material. Interpreters need good listening skills, since especially in simultaneous interpreting the interpreter must listen and speak at the same time. In effect, they memorize what the speaker says in the moment while simultaneously saying what the speaker said a few seconds ago. The interpreter attempts to transform whatever the speaker says, whether formal, informal, colloquial speech or cultural-specific references, to language and wording the target audience can understand.

We can be thankful that God has provided believers with skills in interpreting and translating to aid in the work of His kingdom across the globe. These skills are put to good use here at the LLC as well in many areas, including publications and mission work.

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