Translation efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses reach local residents in the language of their hearts.
“Work Hard Fo Make Your Ohana Happy” means the same as its English equivalent, “Cultivate Joy in Your Family.” But for Weyland Galinato, only the Hawaiian Pidgin version goes straight to his heart.
“I can relate to it better than was in English,” said the Hilo, Hawaii, resident in a mix of English and the English-based creole language he grew up speaking.
That’s why the program on joy was offered in more than 500 languages on a website that boasts free content in more than 1,050 languages — jw.org — and why the Christian group behind that site, Jehovah’s Witnesses, puts so much effort into translation for even smaller language groups.
“We understand that a region’s official language may not be the language of a person’s heart,” said Robert Hendriks, the U.S. spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the United States alone, some 67 million residents speak a language other than English at home.
According to UNESCO, education based on the language one speaks at home results in better quality learning, fosters respect and helps preserve cultural and traditional heritage. “The inclusion of languages in the digital world and the creation of inclusive learning content is vital,” according to its website.
That’s true for all ages and for all types of education.
“Translating spiritually uplifting material into over 1,000 languages takes a considerable amount of time and resources,” said Hendriks, “but we know that reaching a person’s heart with the Bible’s comforting message can only be accomplished if they fully understand it.”
Lao refugee Keo Sysoumang tried attending church services in English after she immigrated to the United States in 1990 but couldn’t understand them.
Raised without her parents, constantly on the run from soldiers and unable to attend school, Sysoumang never learned written Laotian.
Then she met Beverly Christenson, a Witness who was learning Laotian in order to bring comfort to refugees in their native tongue. Between alphabet posters Christenson had brought back from a trip to Laos and Laotian Bible study publications found on jw.org, she helped Sysoumang learn to read.
Studying the Bible together in Laotian brought Sysoumang the peace and hope that always eluded her in her homeland. “My heart is OK. I’m really happy,” said Sysoumang, who now resides in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
For Galinato, too, finding resources in Hawaii Pidgin was instrumental when he decided to get serious about his faith during the pandemic, after failed attempts to study the Bible in English in the past.
“It’s super easy for learn the Bible in your language. And it’s easier for understand,” said Galinato. Attending meetings in Pidgin with a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, held virtually at the time, he found, “You can express yourself better, and the message come in clearer.”
Even his health has benefited, as what he was learning gave him the motivation to quit his longstanding pack-a-day smoking habit and his overdrinking.
Both Sysoumang and Galinato dedicated their life to God, got baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2021, and now share the Bible’s message with others in their respective languages.
As he sends friends and family a positive thought from “Smart Guys” (the Bible book of Proverbs) or “Wat Jesus Show John” (Revelation) in Hawaii Pidgin, “it makes me feel like everybody count,” Galinato said. “God’s Word gonna be preached all over the earth and in languages where people can understand them, better respond to them.”