Missionaries Develop Brazilian Hearts

If you’ve ever worked with an interpreter, you know how it can force you to consider every word. Suddenly, communicating takes twice as long, and the delay in response can be agonizing. Language matters, even in small things like ordering food. For more nuanced communication — such as sharing personal stories and the Gospel — things get complicated fast. As the first CCO mission team ever to travel with translators, the Brazil team had to adapt quickly.

Annie Flaherty, a CCO campus missionary and member of the Brazil team, spoke enthusiastically about the valuable experience of working with interpreters. “Right away, you learn the importance of being clear and simple,” she said. Those last three words are familiar to CCO: ­­ sharing the Gospel clearly and simply is one of our tenets. For each of the mission participants, having their speech translated into another language was a constant reminder to be concise. Extravagant sentences took forever. Elaborating on an idea made it choppy. Each extra word only added to the delay until the other person could respond. But for the team, this new form of communicating wasn’t a hindrance ­­ it was an opportunity.

All the translating reinforced the importance of language in being able to connect with the Brazilian people. Annie describes being in the women’s room late at night, all of the missionaries staying up to pore over their Portuguese vocabulary to be ready for the slightest chance to speak with a local in the native tongue. A deep love for the Brazilian people fueled the efforts of the team to learn bits of the language, investing in phrases that might spark further connection. “The first Portuguese phrase I learned was, ‘meu coração é brasileiro,’” Annie said. “It means, ‘my heart is Brazilian.’”

Traveling with interpreters brought a new element to the mission team’s experience in Brazil. It will also bring a new element to their evangelization work at home. After 24 days of having everything they uttered translated into another language, they’ve gained an appreciation for the weight of each word. They’ve gone through a “clearly and simply” boot camp, and will bring a natural brevity to their campuses and communities in Canada. They know that even when speaking the same language, meaning can get lost. Context can get confused. And there is no need to add extra words only to delay a response.

The Canadians with CCO weren’t the only ones picking up foreign phrases. As the team worked its way through the Amazon, children would often hang around the group and walk with them. The kids would imitate the mission team as members rushed between prayer meetings, always on the way to meet more people. Annie laughed as she remembered the one phrase the kids picked up from the group, repeating over and over: “Let’s go! Let’s go!”


This article originally appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Grapevine. In the Spring of 2015, three CCO staff members and nine students travelled to Brazil, where they trained 35 Brazilian university students in CCO methods and materials.


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