Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko explains the ministry of interpretation and some of the challenges involved. Photo by the Rev. David Valera.

By Patrick Scriven | Director of Communications And Young People’s Ministry

The General Conference is served by many interpreters who help to assist the body in the difficult task of communicating as a global church. While English speaking members may only notice them when they are called to interpret the speech of a non-english speaking delegate (or one who wishes to speak in their native language), they are working throughout the day to assist members who need something interpreted from English in order to participate in the work of the General Conference.

The act of interpretation is often confused with translation. I believe this short explanation from Wikipedia may be helpful:

Despite being used in a non-technical sense as interchangeable, interpretation and translation are not synonymous. Interpreting takes a message from a source language and renders that message into a different target language (ex: English into French). In interpreting, the interpreter will take in a complex concept from one language, choose the most appropriate vocabulary in the target language to faithfully render the message in a linguistically, emotionally, tonally, and culturally equivalent message. Translation is the transference of meaning from text to text (written or recorded), with the translator having time and access to resources (dictionaries, glossaries, etc.) to produce an accurate document or verbal artifact. (Emphasis added.) 

Understanding the act of interpretation also requires a mention of different forms as they can also lead to different results. Simultaneous interpretation involves, as the name suggests, the rendering of translation from the source language to the target language as quickly as possible. Consecutive interpretation involves the interpreter listening to the speaker and offering translation during pauses in the person’s speech. This method allows some more time, albeit short, for the interpreter to try to discern intent and meaning.

Yesterday at General Conference, during the debate on homosexuality, the Rev. Ngwej E. Tshoz, a clergy delegate from South-West Katanga Annual Conference needed translation for his remarks in opposition to a amendment to add language to the Book of Discipline acknowledging difference views on homosexuality. In a speech that was delivered in a mixture of Swahili and French, Tshoz spoke in a manner that suggested strong feelings and used language that caused his interpreter, Kalamba Kilumba, to offer these words of his own before continuing: “Well, I am just translating. I have to be true to the translation. Can you repeat?”

Speculation has been raised about what it was that Tshoz said, particular around a phrase toward the end of his speech and after the brief moment where the interpreter appeared to be speaking for himself. From the original audio, it is clear that there were some words offered that were not interpreted the first time around. The staff in the news room were able to provide both audio and an early copy of the transcribed record, as this part of the debate occurred after the portion completed by the time Friday’s edition of the Daily Christian Advocate was published.

With the help of the Rev. Lyda Pierce, an interpreter was found to help ‘translate’ the audio for us. J. Kabamba Kiboko offered the following, alternative translation, of the audio. The original interpreter, her husband – Kalamba Kilumba, was also gracious enough to speak with us. We offer Kiboko’s interpretation below (in bold) in the body of the original conversation. The original translation from the floor is included in the body of the article. We’ve also posted the audio of her translation for us here so you can listen for yourself. She offered inflection to faithfully, to her ability, represent the passion of the Rev. Tshoz.

Click the following link for audio. Extended-Interpretation 

After finishing this translation, we spent some additional time talking with our interpreter about the importance of interpretation and how she understands the role as she serves the General Conference in this way. We’ve included a video clip of that interview at the bottom of this page.

Original Audio of Speech by Ngwej I. Tshoz (South-West Katanga)


BISHOP BICKERTON: Thank you. Need a speech against. Let’s go in the back of the room now. The far right side, far right hand side, person holding their, right there. Yes, please stand. Yes, go to the microphone, microphone number 3.

NGWEJ l. TSHOZ (South-West Katanga): (Speaking in French)

Kilumba Translation, Part 1
Thank you Bishop for allowing me to speak. Rev. Ngwej Tshoz from South Congo, SW Congo Annual Conference.

BISHOP BICKERTON: Excuse me let’s wait for translation. Let’s also turn on microphone 10. State your name again please.

TSHOZ: (Simultaneous translation) Ngwej Tshoz, South-West Katanga. I rise to stand against this reasoning for the following reasons: First, the theme of our General conference is to make disciples for the transformation of the world. If we accept our homosexuality that means homosexuality that transform the church, the world not the church transform homosexuality. Second, you say that a homosexual person is created by God the way he or she is. I stand to say that is not true. If we say that this is the way God created them.

Kilumba Translation, Part 2
Ngwej Tshoz, Southwest Katanga, Pastor. I am standing here to defeat this thinking. For the following reasons that I want to give.

First, the theme of our General Conference, make disciples for the transformation of the world. Accepting these, the thinking about homosexuality. It is the world that is transforming the church, not the church transforming the world. Second, if what is said that the one who is the homosexual is somebody who is created by God, the way he or she is. I want to say that this is not true because the God who Created is a loving God, cannot create something that will hurt the person. If we say that this is how God created the person the next day somebody may come and say God made him not to marry men or woman, he’s gonna marry animal. He’s gonna say that, we’re gonna say that that’s how God created them, their attracted by animals. Attracted to animals.

“Could you repeat” he says.

Well, I am just translating. I have to be true to the translation. Can you repeat? I say, I refuse to accept that that the way when we say I’m homosexual I -was created like this. Because God is a loving God, he cannot create a person with something that would make him or her suffer. If another person will come to the church and say that God created me to live with animals…

Kilumba Translation, Part 3
I am saying I want to defeat this idea to say that the homosexual was created that way. Because our God is a loving God, he cannot create somebody with something that will hurt that person. Because that person may say that God was created to live with animals. And I want to say another reason is not that to love somebody and to deny somebody, it does not say that we don’t love that person. You can say ‘no’ to that person and I want to end by saying that the grace of God is for all people but the grace of God does not allow anything. For this I ask the conference to defeat this petition.

(Whistles blow)

BISHOP BICKERTON: Let’s be in order.

TSHOZ: (simultaneous translation)… if we say no, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love that person. I stand to say that the grace of God is to all people and for all people. But the grace of God do not allow us to sin. I ask to not accept this petition.

BISHOP BICKERTON: That’s a speech against. Please let me remind you, all of us in the house that this is a delicate subject and it is important for us to remember our, one of our key concepts of Holy Conferencing that we are to avoid inflammatory words, derogatory names, or an excited or angry voice. Let us, let us be in caring concern for one another as we discuss a delicate subject. I have had three speeches for and three against. I’ll take a question here in the front. There is… an amendment is in order. Mic. number 9.


It was clear from our time with Kiboko that the interpretations given in English can differ significantly from the original words of the speaker. The alternative interpretation that she provided shows this with distinct clarity. While there may be an effort to honor the original thought as much as possible, much can get lost in translation. Some words, and even some concepts, have no direct correlation, further complicating the task of gifted interpreters.

What we see most prominently in this situation, is the difficult place our interpreters are put in when members of the General Conference speak in ways, and with words, that destroy. It is clear from our conversation with both interpreters that they deeply feel a call to help to bring unity to the body through the gift of interpretation. When they are called upon to interpret words that will cause disunity, they are placed in a conundrum.

Knowing that there is this temptation to place unity before straightforward interpretation, however well-intentioned that is, we are left with some gnawing questions:

  • Are we truly engaging in holy conferencing with our sisters and brothers in the central conferences or are we having that dialogue with their interpreters?
  • Do attempts to reduce tension with interpreted language create real unity or a false sense of a global church that agrees on more than it does?
  • Who monitors the quality of how difficult situations are handled and how does that even happen?
  • When does the sanitation of interpreted words become censorship?
  • Are the interpreters given clear guidance on how to deal with these difficult situations when they arise or are they left to figure it our for themselves?

The interpreters that serve our General Conference are faced with the difficult task of helping our wonderfully diverse church engage in conversation. Our lack of unity, and particularly our failure to be civil at times, puts an unfair burden on these interpreters (especially if we seek to be engaged in holy conversations). We’ve got some big questions to answer as we seek to be in real and holy conversation. My prayers are with those who are hurt by careless words, those who utter them, and those who get caught in the middle as they try to serve the church faithfully.

In the coming days I’m hoping to get some more answers by talking with the people charged with the equally difficult task of coordinating and providing for this important part of our General Conference life together. If you are interested, please check back. If you have your own questions I’d like to hear them as well.

Finally let me say one last thing emphatically. I was deeply struck by the faithful concern that both Kalamba Kilumba and J. Kabamba Kiboko had for the well being of our conversations together. I’m also very grateful for their willingness to share openly and honestly about their craft.

Special thanks to Greg Nelson, Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Communicator; Mark Doyal, Director of Communications, West Michigan Annual Conference; and the Rev. David Valera, Director of Connectional Ministries, Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.