Found in translation
Katie Young, Doug and Jenny Knight are three Young Adult Service Corps volunteers from the Episcopal Church working in Japan this year and I met them in Tokyo on my way to attend the second Anglican Peace Conference in Okinawa. I was also able to meet with Katie’s older brother Mike, and his wife Natalie. Mike had previously served as a YASC volunteer in Japan a few years earlier, so mission service runs in their family.
We were only able to spend a day together but it was a wonderful cross-cultural adventure for the whole group. After almost two years in Japan, Katie’s language skills were impressive, so she was our interpreter for most of the day, although we often needed a group effort to find our way around the subway. We walked, we talked, we rode swan boats in the park and dined with the aid of “picture menus.” My day started on my own at a local diner where I pointed to what I wanted to eat; the waitress talked to me in Japanese, I spoke to her in English, both aware that the other did not understand a word, but we both somehow managed to get the message. Throughout the day we all happily communicated our way around Tokyo, sharing stories about the joys and challenges of life in another culture.
Doug and Jenny work at the Asian Rural Institute (ARI) where students from all over the world come to learn sustainable agriculture. The common language is English, spoken in nuanced ways and many accents by people from Japan, Myanmar, Liberia, the Philippines and a dozen other countries. All brought together by a desire to learn new farming techniques.
Katie has worked teaching English to young children and supported the work of the Japanese Anglican Church in their relief efforts following the earthquake and tsunami two years ago in a program called “Let us Walk Together.”
Now I find myself in Okinawa with Anglicans from Canada, Australia, England, Korea and Japan. In a recent small group I listened to a conversation in Japanese, which was translated into Korean and then into English. In the past few days we have learned about the pain of war as experienced by the people of Okinawa, and listened to each other’s mutual desires for reconciliation and peace.
During this trip I have been constantly reminded that while being able to speak another language is important in gaining a deeper understanding of a culture, the desire to be in relationship, to listen to one another’s stories, to laugh and cry together, to share each other’s joys and sadness is far more important. Whether we are working for a year overseas with the YASC program, or attending an Anglican mission conference on peace, it is when we share our life experiences openly and honestly that we experience the presence of Christ in the other and we find the love of God that is hidden in the translation of the spoken word.
– The Rev. David Copley is the Episcopal Church’s mission personnel officer and team leader for global partnerships.