Lost in Translation

In my past life, I was an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting criminals for the State of North Carolina. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I did not keep a journal during those years of all the crazy things I saw in the courtroom. It definitely would have been an easy book to write!

One story that I do remember was trying a case before a jury that involved a victim who was from a small place in Pakistan. This person was one of the managers of a local motel and had confronted a person who was stealing a cooler full of ice from the motel’s ice machine. My victim had gone around to the back of the thief’s van to get the license plate number (not the brightest idea) when the thief decided he was going to get out of there. As you might imagine, the victim got hit with the car and the would-be thief was charged with assaulting him with a deadly weapon (the vehicle itself.)

The victim spoke very little English and I was told that there was only one village that spoke the particular dialect of Urdu that he spoke. We were not going to be able to find an “official” translator for the trial. I was able to convince the judge to allow the victim’s cousin (who did speak English) to translate for the victim while he testified. This, in hindsight, was an argument I wish I didn’t win because what followed was like a scene from a bad movie. I would ask the victim a question and he would speak in this foreign language for several minutes. Then the interpreter would translate and say something like, “He said no.” The interpreter and the witness would also have long conversations back and forth in the foreign language but would never tell us what they were saying. Needless to say, it was not a banner day for the prosecution.

I thought about this recently as I heard writer Francis Chan talk about how we are the representatives of Christ to this world. In a way, we are the translators of the gospel to those around us. How well are we translating? Are we speaking the words precisely as God is speaking them or are we substituting our own stuff in the middle? Are we paraphrasing or allowing God’s words to be heard clearly? Are we speaking at all or are we remaining silent when people need us to speak?

And this is certainly not limited to our words. Does my life – my words, attitudes, priorities – accurately depict the life of Christ? My prayer is that it does so that others do not get a distorted gospel when they see it through me. Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “You are the best Christian somebody knows.” I think every believer has at least one person who considers him or her to be the example of what a Christian should be. So remember to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph. 5:1-2)

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