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Tips on Using a Translator When Teaching

Aug. 28, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Ever teach overseas and wonder if what you are saying is being translated correctly? I have certainly been in situations where the translator was nowhere near my intended meaning. I have also make many mistakes. The following tips are what we have written in our short-term ministries handbook.

Step 1: Pray for your translator.

Reason 1: ®Although your translator’s primary job is to be a means of communication between you and other people, remember that the translator is a person too, who is hearing all your words and can be positively or negatively impacted by them. If your translator is not a believer, pray that he or she will come to know Christ! If he is a believer, then do not hesitate to minister specifically to that person while you are with him.

Reason 2: ®Your translator is even more directly connected with the people you are speaking to than you are. Sometimes a word-for-word translation of your sentences would make no sense to the people you are communicating with. Pray that your translator will have wisdom to explain things if necessary and have the mental energy to keep going even when he or she gets tired.

Step 2: Be understanding about the complexities of English and general non-native language use.

Since America is still, to a large extent, a monolingual society, our instinct is to be impatient with those not proficient in English. If we recognize that bent, then we can try to adjust for it.

Tip 1: ®How well a person can speak English is not a measure of his or her intelligence.

Explanation: Obviously, in a country where people have spoken English from birth, we are tempted to think that people who are slow of speech are also slow of thought, rightly or wrongly. But in a foreign country we must remember, against our instincts, that even if a person has very broken English, he or she might still be incredibly smart.

Application: Don’t become condescending when a person doesn’t understand you. Often, even though they might not understand all your words, they will sense your change in tone and aversion to conversation and feel insulted by you. Just be patient, try different words, try annunciating more clearly, and never write them off as unintelligent.

Tip 2: ®In other parts of world, good English is not always the same as American English.

Explanation: There are many places, mostly ones with an English heritage but where English is still a second language, that have developed their own English colloquialisms. That is, phrases that are English that aren’t “proper English,” but still make sense to them and are widely used.

Application: You might be annoyed by their improper usage or just tempted to correct them. But it is better to see their terms as their own dialect of English, not as improper English, and adjust your own speech accordingly.

Tip 3: ®Just because a person is a translator doesn’t mean he or she is completely fluent in English.

Explanation: Depending on where you are going and what you are doing, you may get a translator who has studied English for 10 years and speaks like he graduated from Oxford, or you may get a person who has much less training but is still quite capable to handle most conversation.

Application: Be patient with whoever is translating for you and be grateful that you have a translator rather than having to learn a whole new language. You are just going to have to get to know your translator to discover the limits (if any) of his or her understanding.

Tip 4: ®Avoid idioms.

Explanation: Idioms are phrases we use that make sense as a standard phrase but don’t necessarily make sense just as a sum of the words in the phrase. This means that idioms won’t make sense to someone who knows English words and grammar but never lived in an English-speaking place.

Tip 5: ®Avoid humor and sarcasm.

Explanation: Humor and sarcasm are very culturally situated, and even if translated properly, the fact that something was intended to be funny or meant in jest will not cross over. 

Tip 6: ®It never hurts to go over a lesson ahead of time, whether it just be looking at the outline together or even going through words or phrases that might be especially difficult to translate.

Step 3: Get familiar with the skill level of your translator.

Ultimately, to really communicate fluidly through a translator, the only path is to be familiar with his or her skill with English and preferred method of translation. Some like short phrases and some can handle long sentences. Some need simpler words and some can handle professional terminology. You will learn the basics of how well your translator can do in just a few sentences, but the longer you work with him or her, the easier and more comfortable you will be.

Tip 1: ®Here are some things to observe about your translator as you are trying to figure out how comfortable they are with translating:

How long of a pause is there between you finishing your sentence and the translator starting translating?

How long does the translator speak in relation to how long you spoke?

The amount of time isn’t the most significant thing, the most significant thing is whether the translator looked confused as he was trying to come up with words or whether he was confident and just giving an expanded description.

How frequently does your translator as you to repeat yourself?

Step 4: Adjust your speech according to the skill of your translator.

Due to the fact that each individual’s ability with English is a little bit different, and even each American speaks a little differently, there can be no hard and fast rules about exactly how to adjust your speech with a translator. Use the principles above and use the observation techniques mentioned, and you will quickly be speaking through a translator with accuracy and fluency.

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Retiring from the Ministry?

Aug. 26, 2014By: Weymann Lee

“Retirement” is the dream of most Americans.  We work hard throughout life with the hope that someday we won’t have to work anymore.  We will be able to just relax and enjoy the remainder of our life without any worries or concerns.

 However, for those of us who have been called by God to the ministry, the word “retirement” should not be in our vocabulary! We know that Scripture never teaches the concept of retirement. We believe that when God calls us to serve Him, it is not for a limited period of time; rather, it is a life long privilege and calling where we serve Him until He calls us home to glory. When God calls us to serve Him, He also puts in our heart a deep desire to continually serve Him – to be “abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58) and that desire is what keeps us in the ministry, even during difficult times when we feel like quitting.

From a financial standpoint, most of us in the vocational ministry often can’t afford to truly retire. The salary that many receive doesn’t allow us to put much away for future retirement.  We don’t have the kind of retirement or pension plans that are offered by secular employers.

So, what is a pastor to do when he reaches retirement age and feels it’s time for him to “retire” from the pastoral ministry?  How can a pastor continue to serve the Lord through his retirement years?  Is there a ministry that he can be involved with where he can continue to make an impact in Christ’s kingdom?

These were the kinds of questions that I struggled with last year as I was completing 35 years in the pastoral ministry.  My wife and I felt it was time for me to retire from the pastoral ministry and to “pass the baton” onto younger men who have been trained for the ministry. But yet I didn’t want to “sit on the sidelines” and idly watch others serve.

My heart’s desire was and is to continue to serve the Lord and make an impact in His kingdom throughout my “retirement” years. (Psalm 71:17-18). Little did we realize the Lord had already started preparing our hearts for our “retirement” ministry.


Over the past several years, we had learned that 75% of all Christian believers today live outside the U.S. in the “majority world”, where the majority of the world’s population resides – in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many refer to this area as the “10/40 Window”.

As a result of the advancement of the gospel in these parts of the world, many churches are being established and are growing at an astounding rate! However there are an insufficient number of pastors who are theologically trained in God’s Word to shepherd the growing number of believers in these churches!

It is estimated that there are approximately 5 million pastors outside the U.S.  An overwhelming majority of them (85%) have very little to no solid theological training or have no access to it. This situation has been described as a “theological famine”.  

We were able to truly understand this great need when we heard the following statistics:

      * Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people in the U.S.:            1:230

      * Ratio of theologically trained pastors to people outside the U.S.:     1:450,000

When my wife and I first learned about this immense need, the Lord put in our hearts a deep desire to help with the training and encouragement of these national pastors. I wanted to share with them what the Lord has taught me through my years of training and experience in the ministry. 

While I was still in the pastoral ministry, I was able to participate in a number of short-term ministry trips to help equip these national pastors and church leaders in various countries around the world.  Through these trips the Lord truly opened our eyes to this great, pressing need.  We learned that the number one need and request from missionaries, churches and pastors outside the U.S. is for pastoral and leadership training.

Last year, as I was considering retiring from the pastoral ministry, it became very evident to my wife and me that the Lord was leading us to become involved in this ministry.  As we stepped out in faith in following His leading, the Lord sovereignly led us to serve with Training Leaders International.

We’re excited and humbled about our new ministry and to see how the Lord will use us through our retirement years to not only impact the lives of many national pastors and church leaders around the world, but also the churches that they lead!

THE ENCOURAGEMENT – From Pastor to Pastor

Let me encourage those of you who are currently in the pastoral ministry to consider being a part of a short-term ministry team (1-2 week trip) to help in the training of these national pastors in other countries around the world*. It is a great opportunity for you, as well as your church, to make an immense impact for Christ around the world.   

Let me encourage those of you who are veteran pastors, those who may be considering “retiring” from pastoral ministry, NOT to retire from the ministry. As Dr. John Piper exhorts us in his booklet “Rethinking Retirement”**: Finish life to the glory of Christ!

Utilize the remaining years that the Lord graciously gives you to continue to serve and to glorify Him.  Pass on what the Lord has taught you to national pastors and church leaders around the world who are eager to be equipped to teach the Word!

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2


*TLI offers a number of short-term ministry opportunities throughout the year that pastors can participate in. (See “Short-Term Opportunities” ) TLI is also seeking veteran and retired pastors and missionaries to be International Trainers either part-time or full-time. (See “Employment”.)

** Download a free pdf of “Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ” 


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Announcing the 2014 Southeast Asia Reformed Conference

Aug. 25, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

I am very excited to make you aware of a very exciting development! In the world of evangelical missions, there are lots of ideas, methodologies, and strategies. Some are biblical and helpful. Some aren’t. Few are developed from a consciously Reformed framework. What should the Reformed faith look like in Asian soil? What does it look like to proclaim and live out the implications of a Reformed, Gospel-centered faith in Southeast Asia and beyond?

Started by four missionaries from three organizations in two countries, the newly launchedconferencepromo Southeast Asia Reformed Network aims to bring together Reformed believers (and those open to Reformed teaching) to answer those questions. The Southeast Asia Reformed Network's is a network of Reformed believers who want to see an increasing number of missionaries and Christians in Southeast Asia grounded in a Reformed worldview and able to apply the Scriptures faithfully to life and ministry in Southeast Asia.

The website and blog, and accompanying Facebook page, are one part of that effort. Another major part is the Southeast Asia Reformed Conference this coming November 20-22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. As Reform-minded believers meet each other online and at the conference, it is the organizers’ hope that friendships, resource sharing, and co-operative ministry efforts would be birthed, and new Reformed initiatives would develop throughout Southeast Asia.

To read more about the Southeast Asia Reformed Network, and to register for the Conference, please visit

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Listen to an 18 year old Daughter Talk About Her Missionary Doctor Father

Aug. 15, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Eighteen Year Old Bethany Fankhauser writes:

My dad, a missionary doctor, was standing in a circle of nurses and aids, praying. He was lifting up prayers for the patients who were suffering from Ebola, for their family members, and for the protection of the staff who were about to step into the isolation unit. I held my camera close to my side. When I heard my dad say, “amen,” I glanced at the group standing before me and felt a strong sense that I was in the presence of people who were acting as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Read the whole thing here.

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Language Learning and Mission Work

Aug. 7, 2014By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

I’d like to reflect on language learning, culture, and effectiveness on the mission field. This is intended not for short-term mission teams, but for long-term commitments that require preparatory language learning.

Every missionary making a long-term commitment to cross-cultural missions will say that he or she wants to be effective in the target people group. There is no objection to wanting to fit in, identify with the people and their needs, and understand their culture, and thus minister in a way that will impact lives. There is no disagreement on these matters. The challenge comes in the area of methodology. What is the most effective way to prepare to be practically effective?

Mission organizations, upon sending missionaries to an area that speaks a different language, sends them first to language school. For example, missionaries going to French-speaking African countries are sent either to France or Canada for a year of French studies. The rationale for this approach is that they want their missionaries to arrive in their new setting ready to go and ready to communicate with the people, thus finding it easy to fit in, adapt, and be more effective in ministry. Yet, this could be misleading for several reasons.  Two questions come to mind.

  1. Location. Where is the best place to do the language learning? Interestingly, French in France comes with the French culture and accent attached. It is the same with learning French in Canada. How does that affect the work of a missionary in a francophone African country, which has its own accent and culture attached to the use of the French language?
  2. Duration. Is one year adequate for effective grasp of the language? At the most, one year gives one the basics.  The missionary needs to grow in the use of the language, as well as understanding the local idioms.

I want to affirm the wisdom of learning a language in preparation for ministry in a particular location. The importance of this approach cannot be overstated. It is very helpful to arrive at a location knowing how to address people and express yourself to them. So, this is good. At the same time, I do propose the following:

While language learning is critical, the place of learning the language should be chosen with careful thought. If one is going to work in an African context, it would be best to seek to learn the language on site. (There are benefits to this that will be stated later). So, rather than going to Canada or France to study French prior to working in Congo or Burundi or Cameroon, it would be preferable to spend that language learning time on site.

Why? Reasons abound. It’s cost effective, it helps local teachers economically etc. but I want to expand on just a few:

  1. Language learning on location will help the missionary make a quicker and more effective adaptation to the culture. The fact is that when one is learning a language, included is the culture of the country in which the language is being studied. Culture-specific stories, touristic sites, entertainment places, names of stores and other illustrative examples will be culture specific. A person learning how to order from a menu in a restaurant in Paris will be at a loss in an African village where there are no menus and where you have to bargain in the open market place. But, if the language learning occurred in the area of ministry, the culturally specific issues needing to be addressed and gotten used to in ministry would be treated in the course of language learning. This is beneficial.
  2. To be understood properly, you need to speak in a way that is very close to the way the nationals speak. This is true even with the English language.  If you speak American English in a former British colony, it is difficult to be understood. As an international student studying in the USA, my pronunciation was often corrected. It wasn’t easy, but I needed to learn how Americans pronounce words, and adapt. Learning language on location helps remove this possible hindrance by fine tuning the dialect. 
  3. Cultural effectiveness. Studying French in France will not prepare a missionary for the local customs of the people he will be serving. As a result, one ends up spending time in language studies and then more time on location adjusting the language and learning the local customs. For example, it is improper for a young person to cross the legs or wear a baseball cap in the presence of older persons in some Cameroonian villages. Since crossing the legs is a common American habit, the missionary has to unlearn it. When learning language in the Cameroonian context, these customs become a natural part of the lesson as you interact with people and practice the language.
  4. In terms of duration of language studies, one year cannot possibly be adequate, but for a long period of time will disrupt the vision for mission work. Rather than giving a year for language studies, why not make it a life long process? The first year of ministry can be specifically for language learning. The second year continue language learning 50% of the time and then begin to get your feet wet in the ministry context. By the third year, 30% language learning and more ministry work. This provides more benefits than learning the language at a remote location.

Language learning is a must for mission work. Yet, the location matters and duration matters as well. 


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