Christians Are Translators

Heather Holleman
header for Christians Are Translators

Most of my writing and speaking engagement invitations come from groups who truly want to know the “secret” to sharing their faith. I worry that they might leave disappointed in the simplicity of what I share, but by the end, I find audiences feel energy, empowerment, hope, and confidence. Early on in my training in ministry, I learned this definition of successful evangelism: “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.”

I think people understand the part about taking the initiative and the part about the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God, but they often don’t know what it means to “share Christ.” We’ve already talked about normalizing spiritual conversation by simply talking about what God is doing in your life, what you’re reading in the Bible, and how God responds to you in prayer.

But another key part of acting like others are Christians is being a translator, just like an ambassador to a foreign country. Essentially, when another person shares about their life, Christians can translate that experience into something already articulated in Scripture. In this way, you bring another person’s experience into the framework of the Christian worldview. For example, a colleague of mine once asked if she could meet with me to discuss something important. She said, “I am wondering if you have a spirit-guide because I sense a powerful aura about you.” Without hesitation, I said, “I do have a spirit-guide. His name is Jesus, and He indwells me by the Holy Spirit.”

Another time, a neighbor invited me over to talk about her new interest in becoming a “Light Healer” as part of a New Age spiritual group. I immediately said, “Did you know that Jesus Christ was called the Light of the World and that He has power over darkness?” She was amazed. She asked me to show her where in the Bible Jesus is referred to in terms of light.

Christians are translators. We make one statement understandable in another language, in this case, the language of God’s Word. Sometimes, this work happens easily. I often sit with friends or colleagues and simply ask what they know about Jesus and the crucifixion, for example. People might say, “I’m not sure about Jesus. Didn’t he commit some crime? Wasn’t he some kind of radical?”

From a historical perspective, I’m able to answer questions— and translate misunderstandings—in these conversations. Sometimes these translation moments happen when friends try to explain to me something happening to them psychologically. People have often said something like, “The things I want to do, I don’t do. I end up doing things I don’t want to do instead. I don’t understand myself at all!” In these moments, I can translate such statements into God’s Word as articulated in Romans 7:15 where Paul makes the same desperate cry: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Here, Paul talks about the problem of sin; it’s sin living in him that does this work. He ends that famous passage by saying, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me? . . . Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (vv. 24, 25). Friends who had visited psychics and astrologers sit there in shock that an ancient text could read their lives like this. Friends who feel so confused about their internal struggles cannot believe a man named Paul explained the battle they feel inside.

Again, Christians translate. A whole world is waiting for us to tell them what it is they are feeling and doing. It’s as though they cry out, “What is happening to me? I don’t understand what I’m doing!” And we come along and say, “I can help. I understand what’s happening.”

As I act like others are already Christians, I assume God is at work. I assume the audience wants to hear what I’m going to say. Therefore, I normalize spiritual conversations and translate experience in gospel language. As this happens, I’m asking Jesus to show me where He’s working in this person’s life and how I can help. I’m asking God to show me the right time to say, “What do you think about this? Do you think you would like to receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ?”

I was sitting in my minivan with a neighbor who was struggling emotionally. We had been dear friends for several years—walking to school, eating pancakes, and dancing with children at our neighborhood fitness night. We had talked about Jesus all those years, but she continued to struggle with whether or not God was really good. She didn’t know if she could trust Him to guide her life and care for her.

I turned to her and said, “Knowing Jesus is the best thing that could ever happen to you. Are you ready?” It wasn’t that I was so persuasive in that moment; it was that Jesus was working and she needed an invitation to respond. We prayed in the van together, and when summer came, my husband baptized her. A few years later, her daughter followed her lead, receiving Christ and agreeing to a public baptism. Now, all these years later, she blesses our community with her life and art in a great ministry of compassion and service, especially to those who are grieving.

For Further Reading:

Seated With Christ

by Heather Holleman

As Christians find themselves trapped in the rhetoric of platform, influence, retweets, and fame, they need a ladder out of the fray. Many of...

book cover for Seated With Christ