“I really admire what you’re doing. I know I couldn’t. But I’m so glad for people who can, and I’ll definitely be praying for you.” I wish I knew how many times I’ve heard something like that. Even more, I wish I knew how to respond. Often I just smile and change the subject.
What makes you hint that I “can”? Do I dare mention that I think you could, too? Often, I come away with the impression that I’m just special, and so I can. I’d like to think I’m special. I’d like to think that’s why I “can.” But I know better. How many tears I’ve cried over this journey. How many times I just want to do something a little easier. Something I already know how to do. Something a little more normal.
I didn’t always speak three languages. English came quite naturally—but the other two were hard: the occasional headaches, the fear and frustration of being unable to communicate, the shame of feeling like an awful ignoramus with no clue what was going on. I wanted to quit, and probably would have, except for godly mentors who encouraged me to stick it out. Success came through their encouragement, a little elbow grease, and countless mistakes.
I’ve savored the taste of success, but I didn’t succeed because I’m so special.
All the weird things I talk about now—phrase structure rules, bilabial clicks, and orthography—used to be frightening gibberish. Learning linguist-speak took months of schooling, more elbow-grease, lots of dish-washing dollars, and a hefty bit of friendly encouragement. I enjoy linguistic jabberwocky now, but I didn’t get here by being special.
I suppose this is where I should give an impassioned appeal that “Anyone can do this!” And while that is more true than most people realize, I’ve been in training long enough to know that this work often does attract a certain type of person: People who are good at math, enjoy playing with words and sounds, and have an ear for music; people who are disciplined, stubborn, and observant; people who are willing to look and feel very foolish, sacrifice normalcy and familiarity—and choose thankfulness. That sounds a little like me. . .does it sound anything like you?
I really had no clue what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know what all Bible translation involved, or what Literacy was—I heard about it in a roundabout way and felt called to pursue it, so I did. Call it stupidity; call it a leap of faith; call it obedience. I like it here, but I’m not here because I’m special. I’m here because, one step at a time, I’ve said “Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord!” This is what “yes” has meant for me—what will it mean for you?
ABT Member in Training
Ayana Otto learned Spanish while working at a children’s home in Mexico. Since joining ABT, she first
focused on Biblical Hebrew, planning to be an Old Testament translator. More recently, Ayana has been
pursuing a translation support role in Literacy—giving oral, illiterate language groups the tools they
need to read God’s Word when it is translated for them.