A half a million. That’s a rough estimate on the number of words a group of translators has been combing through for the 225th General Assembly just since the first of the year. Ensuring that all documentation is provided in three languages is the job of Global Language Resources (GLR), a ministry of the Administrative Services Group in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
What started out as a two-person group translating in Spanish and Korean is now a full-fledged department/ministry with a few additional personnel and some specialized contractors. GLR now provides language access services to the six agencies of the PC(USA) and Presbyterian Women.
Preparing for the denomination’s first hybrid General Assembly has presented challenges and required a lot of preparation. Stephanie Vasquez, who has translated for several Assemblies in the past few years, is now GLR manager. Staff includes Senior Translator the Rev. Dr. Victor Min, Senior Korean Translator the Rev. John Kim, Associate Korean Translator Sangik Lee and Associate Spanish Translator Bequi Fernandez.
“We have been working long hours, translating more than 5,000 words a day sometimes,” Lee said. “It also required putting in weekend hours, too. There’s just been a lot to do.”
The Office of the General Assembly, in its planning for this year’s gathering, has worked to ensure that equity and inclusion are important elements of the Assembly. That means providing all documentation in English, Spanish and Korean languages and has required months of preparatory work.
“There has been a lot of documentation to go through these past few months. We have had to read, translate and sometimes research words,” said Kim. “Sometimes it could be a tedious job or boring, or we had difficulty concentrating because we were looking at similar documents every day over and over again.”
GLR has not only been combing through documentation for this Assembly, but also reviewing reports and documents passed on from the shortened 224th General Assembly. It has required the group to bring in additional help to cover everything in need of translation.
“For the Spanish side, it required two in-house people and four contractors. We couldn’t always use the same contractors for everything because each translator brings a specialty for a specific subject. I assign one who is good at financials to translate the financial pieces, another individual with church background covers the Book of Order, and so forth,” said Vasquez. “We have to study the document first and see what it is. One staff member’s focus is in theological and liturgical, so he tackles that.”
Vasquez says the team is honest with each other about its bandwidth as well as what staff members like to translate.
“It can be very tiring. However, I have learned a lot about the church and how we make our mission work,” said Lee. “I cannot complain because it’s also a blessing to learn how the church makes things happen.”
The team believes the work is more than just a job — it’s a ministry.
“I’m an ordained pastor. When I got this call about three years ago, I was curious about the calling. I didn’t know why I have to work in administration jobs when I was looking for a church to serve,” said Kim. “But I recognize God’s will. As a pastor, sometimes I can use my theological learnings and concepts when reviewing documents for Korean congregations and ministries.”
Kim adds that they need to provide translations of all documents for churches, but there are exceptions.
“Sometimes they need to be translated, but not necessarily for Korean congregations,” he said. “Using my theological background, I can filter which documents they would review. So, even though I work in translation for GLR, I still feel like I’m in the ministry field for the wider church.”
Vasquez says that if everyone has access to information, they can be part of the decision-making process.
“We are now allowing people to moderate in languages other than English. There’s a lot of work going on behind closed doors as well as a lot of preparation and meetings,” she said. “I think there is value because it can set an example that people shouldn’t feel restricted to participate because they don’t speak English. I think our job and our ministry is to make excellent documents for people to read and understand what is actually going on.”
During committee meetings, interpreters will be available on-site to provide support for committee members in need of their services. GLR will also be utilizing remote applications to provide interpretation for those watching the Assembly online.