Episode 49: The unifying language of the gospel, with Church News translation coordinator Vanessa Fitzgibbon

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global faith with 16.5 million members who speak dozens of languages. This October marks 50 years since Church leaders began translating the faith’s semiannual general conference. In 1961 messages were shared in Dutch, German, Samoan and Spanish. Today — as a reflection of this growing global faith — general conference addresses will be translated into 97 languages.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Church News translation coordinator Vanessa Fitzgibbon. She will talk about the miracle of translation that connects a global Church and about translating Church News content from English into Spanish and Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are the second- and third-most-spoken languages in the Church. Fitzgibbon, originally from Brazil, shares her conversion story, the process of translating Church News content and the necessity of seeking the Spirit during the process.        

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Transcript

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.” 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global church, with now 16.5 million members. This year, 2021, also marks the 60th year general conference has been translated. In 1961, it was shared in Dutch, German, Samoan and Spanish. Now, as a reflection of this growing global church, general conference is translated into more than 90 languages. In addition, the Book of Mormon is now completely translated into 95 languages; and for the past two years, the Church News has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese. A living record of the Restoration, the Church News is working hard to reach a growing global audience.

Kristy Shelley hands out translation headsets before the 180th Annual General Conference, Saturday, April 3, 2010.
Kristy Shelley hands out translation headsets before the 180th Annual General Conference, Saturday, April 3, 2010. Credit: Jason Olson, Deseret News

For this episode of the Church News podcast, we are joined by Church News translation coordinator Vanessa Fitzgibbon. Originally from Brazil, Vanessa earned a bachelor’s degree in Portuguese and English literature, a master’s degree from BYU in Luso-Brazilian literature, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Portuguese studies with a minor in Latin American studies. Vanessa, we’re so excited to have you on the Church News podcast.

1:58  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Thank you. It is my pleasure to be here and to be able to talk a little bit about our languages.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, Vanessa, tell us — how did you come to study languages?

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Well, languages were something that were very natural in our home. I was raised bilingual, because my father was English and he didn’t speak much Portuguese. Actually, that’s how he and my mom met, because my mom had perfect English. There was this soldier who came from England who didn’t speak any Portuguese, who was very sick. So my mom came and made him happy and made him company, and he was very sick, he didn’t die of it. And they were happily married for 40 years. 

So, we always had this idea of speaking two languages at home, to the point that many times I didn’t know the difference between English and Portuguese. I remember once that I went to a store — I was about 11 years old — and I asked something, and the person was just like, “What are you talking about?” And I had no idea why he couldn’t understand me. I was being very clear. And then I started crying, and this person came, a neighbor came, and he explained that, “Well, she speaks English and Portuguese. So this is what actually she wants.” And I said, “Is there a difference?” So, that was one of my first experiences with bilingualism. 

So, I was raised bilingual, and my mom also spoke several languages, including French, Russian, German and a couple of other languages. So we were always mixing up all those languages at home, to the point that today — up to this day — I remember words in Russian, or words in German, because my mom would be talking — and a lot of Italian as well. 

And so, when I was in school, I was preparing to study architecture. I wanted to be an architect, because I love physics, I loved everything that was related to math and designs. But we moved to a city where we didn’t have an architecture college, so I was kind of devastated. And I was thinking about going to business. I was 17 years old when I started college. So, my mom looked at me and she said: “You know what? I don’t think you should study any of this. I think you should study literature and languages.” And I said: “Why? It’s so far from it.” And she said: “You love books. I see that you read four or five books every week.” And it was not just books about Brazil or Luso-Brazilian literature — I loved to read books from England, from Italy, from Spanish countries. I always loved the foreign languages’ literature — doesn’t mean that I was reading in those languages.

So I started studying languages and literature in college — it was Portuguese and English — but during that time, we used to have — and because of how colleges are structured in Brazil, I had to take four years of Latin. I used to go to school at night from 7 to 11 [p.m.], and my Latin classes were from 9:30 to 11, which means that many times, I would be sleeping in class — but it was a fantastic experience. I actually learned a lot about translation because of those classes. 

I also wanted to come to BYU at one point to study languages at BYU, because I knew they had a great language program. But my father had a severe stroke, and my mom decided that it would not be a good idea for me to leave, so I decided to stay in Brazil. My very first job was working for the United Nations Development Program as a bilingual secretary. I was 18 years old. And since then, I started translating from Spanish and English into Portuguese. So that’s how I started working: Having a profession as a translator, among other things. And then later, I came to BYU, continued my studies in Portuguese and had the chance to get more experience with Spanish and other languages. 

Photos Vanessa Fitzgibbon had of Brigham Young University that were in a magazine when she was a young woman in Brazil.
Photos Vanessa Fitzgibbon had of Brigham Young University that were in a magazine when she was a young woman in Brazil. Credit: Provided by Vanessa Fitzgibbon

So, basically, that’s how I became so interested. And up to this day, I love watching foreign movies. Like yesterday, I was watching a Norwegian movie, and I had never seen that Norwegian movie, so I had the captions in English, and I was listening to the Norwegian to see what was the relation of the words in Norwegian with English. And I said: “I need a life. I need to do something more, more normal than being a geek in my free time and watching foreign movies.” So I love — I have a passion for languages.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I have to tell you: I love languages, because I love words, and I’m so grateful that we can take the words that we craft for Church News, and extend their reach to an audience that may not be able to consume them in English. Why is it so important that we do that?

6:58  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Well, as you said, not everybody has had the chance or the opportunity to study languages. Sometimes, we are talking about people who don’t have even the opportunity to study their own languages, like in Portuguese, or in Spanish because of financial situations. So, as you said, we craft the language — not just to be a translation, but also to carry the Spirit and the intention of the author, the intention of the message, the intention of reaching those who actually really need these messages that we are sending. 

And the Church is a global church today, more than ever. So it’s interesting that when I see that we are reaching people that would never have the chance if it wasn’t for — one, technology; two, through our efforts of putting into their language and in their own understanding, because what I feel is that when we’re doing translation, we need to translate also with the Spirit. If we translate with the Spirit, we are giving a message that goes along with the Spirit. So it’s a two-way communication. 

I love to read the comments that some people put. The other day, there was a comment from a person from Angola, the other side of the ocean, and I said: “Yes! Somebody got our messages.” It’s a feeling that you cannot translate it. 

I remember watching conference when I joined the Church, and I don’t — I think it was in Portuguese, but it was so far, so hard to understand, and I remember wanting to have this access to Church News when I was very young, and it was not possible. Now it’s in the palm of our hands. We just push a button, and we can read at the same time that things are happening here, in Utah. So, that is something that goes beyond my understanding; although I understand, intellectually, how it works. The fact that we are sending the Spirit with our messages is amazing for me.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, growing up in Brazil, it had to feel like you were very far from headquarters. I’ve noticed that as I’ve traveled, sometimes it just feels like you’re so far away from everything that’s happening, and technology does make it possible for us to make the Church a little smaller; and as we make content available in various languages, we also close that gap a little bit. Talk to us about how you joined the Church.

9:39  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon at the Donny & Marie Osmond show in 2019 in Las Vegas.
Vanessa Fitzgibbon at the Donny & Marie Osmond show in 2019 in Las Vegas. Credit: Provided by Vanessa Fitzgibbon

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: When I was in Brazil, I was part of a Donny Osmond fan club. We had maybe eight people in our fan club, and we decided on a meeting to meet everyone. We were all from São Paulo. So we met, and one of the girls, actually, she was a Latter-day Saint, and we became very close friends. And after our meeting one day, she sent me a telegram. We didn’t have text messages at the time. And she sent the telegram and she said, “Would you like to come and see the Prophet of our Church?” 

I was about 15 years old. I asked permission [from] my mom — I lived in a city very close to São Paulo, but that meant a two-hour trip by bus to get to where I was supposed to meet her, and I did that. My mom said yes, and when I went there I was expecting like a kind of Moses prophet — long beard with a gown and all this craziness around him — something like Moses. 

The Sao Paulo Brazil Temple and Visitors' Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Aug. 31, 2019.
The Sao Paulo Brazil Temple and Visitors’ Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Aug. 31, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And when I got there, guess what? It was President Kimball. And later, I understood it was when they had the cornerstone for the São Paulo Temple, so I was watching something that was immense in terms of history of the Church. And I remember looking at the people around him, and everybody was in their suits, very reverent, very different from all the church people that I have always seen in my life. And I was a very active Catholic at this time, but I remember having this feeling that was like, “They are not weird, they look so nice.” Who cannot see President Kimball and love him, you know? And I remember having an amazing experience there. 

President Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball

And when I was there, she also put me in touch with the missionaries from my city, Santo André, São Paulo; and a few weeks later, the missionaries came and started teaching my family. As I said, I was 15 years old; and when the missionaries came, I found out a couple of things about my family. The first missionaries who actually came to my house were in 1966, when we had the military dictatorship. The missionaries left a magazine at home, and they came because my father spoke — we spoke English at home, and the missionaries didn’t speak Portuguese, so they contacted our family, and they left, actually, a magazine. I did not know that until the missionaries came and my parents started talking about it. 

And that magazine, I actually had found a couple of years earlier. I didn’t know what it was about, but I saw some beautiful pictures, and I said: “I love these pictures. I want to put them at the door in my room, and I want to go to this place one day.” So I had those pictures up for many, many years, saying, “This is the most beautiful place on earth, and I want to go there one day.” And actually — those pictures, I found out, that they were pictures from BYU, and I had kept that as a goal for many, many years. 

So from there, I was the only one to join the Church, unfortunately, but my family always have had a great love for the Church and for the changes that that made in my life. Even through the trials that I have gone through in my life, my siblings are very supportive, and they always say how much they admire the work of the Church in our lives, how much the Church has supported us in ways that — it’s more than financial. It’s more than physical. It’s on the way we are. So this is my little story. So I started with a Donny Osmond fan club, but it turned out like a real story.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And it ended at BYU, where you ultimately worked as well. 

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Yes, I taught at BYU for 18 years. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. Well, why don’t you tell us about the process of translation? What do you think about as you translate a phrase from English to Portuguese, or from English to Spanish, or from Spanish to Portuguese?

13:49 

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Yeah, this is a very interesting process. First of all, I cannot have any sounds around me. I have to be quiet, I have to be in my corner. So, I usually immerse in that language, and I surround my mind with thoughts in that language. So it’s like a mode that I switch into that language. So the first thing I look into is making sure that I read the original a couple of times so I can understand. As many people know, sometimes we have words, but words by themselves, they don’t give the meaning of a sentence. You have to look into the general meaning, the general message, and then you put words next to each other that will make sense, different orders sometimes.

So I need to be in that quiet place in order to do a good translation, and it’s actually a very slow process, when you think about it. With Church News, we are time-sensitive material, but I do exactly the same thing. 

This is a screenshot of the Portuguese version of the Church News app.
This is a screenshot of the Portuguese version of the Church News app. Credit: Church News app screenshot

The difference of when I was doing translations, for example, for the United Nations to what I’m doing right now, is that we have the amazing company of the Spirit. And I learned very early in my life, even when I was in school, when I was doing translations for companies, or — one special occasion, I was doing translations for the DEA, with the FBI, here in Utah, and I understood that what I was doing was extremely important. So, because I was a member of the Church, I prayed, and I prayed that I could find the meaning of what we were looking for. And we did, and it was actually not Portuguese; it was Galician, Galician-Portuguese — I think that’s how you call it in English — which is a language that mixes Spanish and Portuguese. And the Spanish translators couldn’t figure out what it was, you have to be a Portuguese native speaker, in order to understand it, because it was a mix of the two languages. And if I didn’t have my knowledge in Spanish, I couldn’t translate it either, because I was mixing two things. So even when I did something that was not Church-related, I always trusted the Spirit. But in the case of the process with Church News, I love the fact that we have to have the Spirit, as I talked before, we have to share more than the message, more than words, we need to share the Spirit behind those words, and this makes a lot of difference. 

So, no matter what you do, if you have the Spirit of the Lord, He is going to guide you, He is going to help you in what you’re doing. So the language process: And then I read, I transfer to the new language, then sometimes, I have both — like the three languages Spanish, English and Portuguese, and I compare the three languages to see what is better for the Spanish and Portuguese, to see if we are reflecting exactly the same meaning that was given in the original English, and so it’s a long process.

Sarah Jane Weaver: It feels like culture and customs and traditions would all affect that translation as well — that some words might mean something in one country that would mean something entirely different or have different context in another nation. How do you deal with all of that?

17:17

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: So, as I said, it’s very important to have the intellectual knowledge. So studies, the experience that we have through work, it’s very interesting to have the knowledge of the country, the history behind it, the customs and things like that. So, having a cultural knowledge is fundamental in terms of translation. There are, for example, many words that I cannot put in continental Portuguese, because they will be swearing words in Brazilian Portuguese, so you have to be sensitive to that. And there are certain words that sometimes come in English that we don’t have a translation, neither to Spanish nor Portuguese, because we don’t have such things in our countries. So we try to do our best. We have the best translators, native speakers in Spanish and Portuguese, and they are both aware of our needs, in terms of culture, in terms of traditions. 

So, for example, there’s a huge Catholic tradition in Latin American and Portuguese-speaking countries. So how can we do something that will not offend people with a background in this Church who are converts? I was a convert from the Catholic Church, and I am very respectful. So, we tried to find a language that will translate the ideas, the content as well, but also adapt to their reality. We need to be very aware of difference in terms of sociologically speaking, financially speaking, politically speaking, we have to have an understanding of what these people are going through and how this message is going to affect. 

So, for example, I noticed that every time we publish something about the temples, it’s marvelous to see the comments because they feel like, one, their countries their language is being considered, and they also cheer for other countries, for other temples around the world. So that makes the Church very small. 

We had a series about the Olympics recently, and that series was wonderful because we had Latter-day Saints, our people, who are connected to the Church, and everybody was cheering for them. So, we became a very close community, and I think the most important thing is that we have the sense of unity in our languages, that we have respect for their traditions, for the difference, and we can respect their way of thinking. And that’s why it’s important to have translators also who come from different backgrounds, because they can translate those ideas with a different perspective that might be very different from mine. So, the intellectual knowledge plus the experience, plus the understanding, that is a whole process in terms of culturally adapting the Church articles into a global Church.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’ve had some interesting experiences as I’ve traveled in the last few years; specifically, on ministry tours with President Russell M. Nelson. President Nelson, when he traveled through Central and South America, started giving his addresses in Spanish; and suddenly, I was in Spanish-speaking nations with a Prophet who was speaking to the crowds in their native language, and I was the odd man out. I was the one who did not, and could not, connect to what was happening. It was the first time that I felt the need to want to connect, that need to know something important was going on, and that it was somehow out of reach of me. And that’s why translation became so valuable to me — because the translator became my connection to the events that were happening on those global ministry tours, and that’s what you do with so much of what we do for Church News — you connect others to it by helping them, by taking it to them in their language. Now, I’ve also seen in my travels the stress of translators when they’re standing by a speaker, they’re doing side-by-side translation. How hard is that?

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a devotional in Apia, Samoa, on Saturday, May 18, 2019. At right is interpreter Jason Joseph.
President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints speaks during a devotional in Apia, Samoa, on Saturday, May 18, 2019. At right is interpreter Jason Joseph. Credit: Ravell Call, Deseret News

21:38

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: Oh, the work of an interpreter is very hard. I remember many times that I was kind of interpreting for someone and suddenly comes this blank, this huge blank, and I feel like, “Oh my gosh, the person’s thinking that I’m an idiot.” I’m not an idiot, I just have a blank in my mind. 

President Thomas S. Monson, left, meets with Brazil's vice president, Jose Alencar, second from right, and Elder Russel M. Nelson, right. Also seated is interpreter Edson Lopes.
President Thomas S. Monson, left, meets with Brazil’s vice president, Jose Alencar, second from right, and Elder Russel M. Nelson, right. Also seated is interpreter Edson Lopes. Credit: Gerry Avant, Church News

But one thing I have to tell you is how important it has been for foreign members of the Church that did not speak English to hear the gospel, from these general authorities, from the Prophet, in their own language. I feel so emotional, because there are answers in the language that only a person who’s speaking it can give, and as I said, many people do not have the privilege that some of us have of having the knowledge of different languages, the ability, the intellectual ability, to understand. And one thing that always comes to my mind is my father, and the challenges that he had living in a Portuguese-speaking country. He always worked with British, he always worked with Americans, he always had to speak English in the society that we were in — also at work. He spoke English at home. So what was the need to speak Portuguese? But things started changing, and the need for him to speak Portuguese was growing, and he was still struggling with it, and I remember one day that I asked him and I said, “Dad, what is the hardest thing for you about living in Brazil?” And he said it was to feel as a foreigner, when he loved Brazil so much, but he was not able to communicate well in a language. And a lot of people would take advantage of that, that he didn’t understand the language. So I always thought about this. 

And in the Church, we have the blessing of thinking of it as there are no foreigners in the Church; we are speaking the gospel language. So, one thing that I think about is that when we are talking about languages, we are not just sending those messages in those languages to the people who live in Latin American countries or Portuguese-speaking countries — we are also sending to many people who live, for example, in United States, in different parts of the United States, but they struggle learning English. I always feel like I was very blessed that when I came, I was already understanding the culture, the language and everything. But how many neighbors do we have that are struggling with a language, especially English? So when we translate, we are serving our neighbor in the capacity, so we are approaching to them. It’s a way that we can serve them — trying to learn a different language, trying to learn a different custom, trying to learn a different tradition, and celebrate with them our difference. 

So I think one of the key elements for us to understand here in the United States, we speak the language, you understand the Prophet when he’s talking in his native language, is to think about others who do not have that same privilege, and try to help them to share the gospel and the messages that we are receiving, by learning a little bit about them, by sharing those experience. We become enriched. And these people — I have to say, I have witnessed so many times that people cannot, they don’t have words enough to thank me when I’m able to communicate in their language. So it’s part of being a member of the Church, is embracing the gospel and serving our neighbors.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I saw the Brethren do that so much this past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were a series of devotionals that went out to young single adults around the world, by Apostles. The first one was given by Elder Neil L. Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, and the whole thing was broadcast in French. It originated in French, there weren’t English versions of anything. They spoke to French-speaking Latter-day Saints in French, and that series ended with Elder Ulisses Soares speaking to Portuguese members in Portuguese. And that is such a beautiful thing — that we have Apostles, so many of whom speak other languages than their native English, and we have two Apostles who speak English as a second language, with both Elder [Dieter F.] Uchtdorf Uchtdorf and Elder Soares. So this is a global Church, and the concept of no foreigners in the Church is a beautiful and remarkable one. Tell us: How  do we make the Church a little smaller? How do we close the gap that makes the world feel so small?

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional broadcast from the Church Office building in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 21, 2021.
Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional broadcast from the Church Office building in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 21, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

26:37  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: I believe that technology is a blessing, that everything has been part of Heavenly Father’s plan, and the way that the world is globalized today — we are, in the split of a second, we are able to cross so many borders because we have the technology, we have the the ways that we can communicate to a person on the other side of the world. But we still have limitations, because it’s not every country that has the same benefits of having the technology that we have, for example, in the United States. It’s not every country that has access to internet, it’s not every member who has a computer at home. And when I think about this, I become very emotional to think about: “How can we do better? How can we improve so these messages can get to these people?”

Interpreters work behind the scenes during general conference.
Interpreters work behind the scenes during general conference. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I’m very touched when I think about general conference being translated, today, to 93 languages, because I remember how hard it was for us to listen to it to understand what they were saying. And as I said, I don’t remember if it was Portuguese or English, because the sound was really pretty bad. And today, we can watch the Prophet talking, he is speaking here from Salt Lake City to the entire world. So Church News becomes an official speaker for many countries. We are very close to the Brethren. We are very close to the message that they share, and being able to make it even smaller through the two languages that we are translating right now, it’s amazing. 

We always say that the Church — for example, in Brazil, we all say that the Church in Brazil, we all know everyone, and we laugh about it. But the thing is that we are a very unique community, and we are able to cross borders that are cultural, that are linguistic, that are physical, for the message of the gospel. And I think a key element to make this world smaller are our wonderful missionaries. I think about the missionary who converted me, who actually helped me with the lessons and actually baptized me. He couldn’t speak much Portuguese at the time. His Portuguese was pretty bad at that time, but he was the only missionary who — my parents said, “You can be baptized if this missionary baptizes you.” And it was not because of his language skills, because he also talked in English to my parents, but it was because of the spirit that he carried. 

Interpreters in booths in the basement of the Tabernacle at the April 1963 general conference. Those who received the interpretation sat inside the Tabernacle listening through headphones.
Interpreters in booths in the basement of the Tabernacle at the April 1963 general conference. Those who received the interpretation sat inside the Tabernacle listening through headphones. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

And one thing that I truly believe is the gift of tongues. I believe that when our missionaries cross the world — and it’s important to have missionaries for all parts of the world — they have this mantle and they can talk not just by words but also by the Spirit, and this is actually what converts, we all know that this is what converts. So, missionaries bring the Church even closer — I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to listen to the message of the Church by missionaries who learn, in a very hard way, the language, and they are working there on their own time, with their own expense, to share something that is amazing. 

And I remember the years that I taught at BYU for returned missionaries. They don’t have the mantle anymore, so they come to the classes with what they have. And sometimes I look at the missionary and I said, “How could you survive two years with this kind of language?” But, as I said, when we are sharing the gospel, it’s more than just intellectual knowledge — it’s the Spirit who is translating it for us, and I cannot tell you how many times I have to trust the Spirit to translate meaning, not just words, but also the feelings of other people in other languages. I feel like many times, even when I was in Brazil, there were regions that, they speak very differently from how I speak. I’m from São Paulo, so how different they speak. And I remember that we have to speak a language that we all understand. There is a common language for all of us. We have to be able to talk to the government authorities, to the poorest person on the planet, we have to be able to communicate, but the Spirit will do a great part of it.

Vanessa Fitzgibbon, center, receives the Brigham Award at BYU in 2014, and is shown with BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson, center left, and three of her children and her son-in-law.
Vanessa Fitzgibbon, center, receives the Brigham Award at BYU in 2014, and is shown with BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson, center left, and three of her children and her son-in-law. Credit: Provided by Vanessa Fitzgibbon

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that is such a beautiful message to the mother of a daughter who’s on a mission in Brazil. She’s only been there a few months, and I think she’s struggling to learn the language.

31:26  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: They usually do. I had — all my kids served in a foreign-language country. Two served in Brazil, which was not that foreign, but to serve in a Spanish-speaking countries. And I remember my youngest was the one who had the less experience with Portuguese, less exposure, and he was called to serve in Bolivia. And I was just like, “Oh my gosh.” I know that the Lord will protect them. But you also hope that they can learn a little bit on their own, the intellectual part. So I was extremely worried. Three months in the mission, he said, “Mom, I cannot say one word in Spanish.” And so time took care of it. He came back, speaking not just Spanish, but he also speaks a beautiful Portuguese. He learned Portuguese better in his mission than he was learning at home. And he also learned Quechua, Bolivian Quechua, which means that he became trilingual, able to share the gospel in those three languages plus English, I guess. And it is amazing. So I believe in the mantle that those missionaries have, and the work that they have to bring the Church even close, and they are amazing, every single missionary, and only a mom knows how hard it is to let your kids go. But it was worth it. It was worth every second that they spend there.

Vanessa Fitzgibbon and her children pose for a Christmas picture together — their first family photo in 10 years and after all four of her children had returned from their missions. From right to left, Marcelo (served in the Belém Brazil Mission); Felipe (México Mexico City Northwest); Vanessa Fitzgibbon; Natalia (Brazil Brasilia Mission); Danilo (Bolivia Cochabamba Mission)
Vanessa Fitzgibbon and her children pose for a Christmas picture together — their first family photo in 10 years and after all four of her children had returned from their missions. From right to left, Marcelo (served in the Belém Brazil Mission); Felipe (México Mexico City Northwest); Vanessa Fitzgibbon; Natalia (Brazil Brasilia Mission); Danilo (Bolivia Cochabamba Mission) Credit: Provided by Vanessa Fitzgibbon

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I have been so grateful for the opportunity to talk to you about the global Church, about languages, about how we can make the Church feel smaller, how we can connect people of all languages through the language of the Spirit; and we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we like to give our guests the last word, and we ask them all to answer the same question. And so, Vanessa — after studying language, and translating languages, and relying on the Spirit to help you amplify the words of the Brethren, and working so hard with us to build Church News translations — what do you know now?

33:39  

Vanessa Fitzgibbon: I know a lot of things, but I also have a long way to go to learn more. And, as I said, I have been emphasizing here that when we are working with the Church, we are working with the Spirit. So a couple of weeks ago, I received a document to be translated, and it was a very important document from the Church. And suddenly — I have done this many times, and I know that I was capable, I know I have the skills. I knew what was going on — and suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t do it. I was in this battle for several days, feeling like, “I cannot touch this. This is so sacred, I’m not able to do it. I’m not good enough.” 

So I had this horrible feeling that I was not qualified for the job, and I remember praying day and night to understand what was going on with me; and I remember that when I finally felt comfortable to touch that document again, I felt the abundance of the Spirit, and it was like I could do something in a couple of hours, something I was struggling to do for weeks.

English and Spanish translations of the Book of Mormon on display with the dozens of other languages during Saturday afternoon session of the 180th Annual General Conference.
English and Spanish translations of the Book of Mormon on display with the dozens of other languages during Saturday afternoon session of the 180th Annual General Conference. Credit: Jason Olson, Deseret News

Satan is behind us, trying to make us believe that we are not capable, especially when we are dealing with languages. One word that you put it wrong, and it can change an entire thing, and somebody can be offended. Of course, it’s never our intent, but a long time ago, actually, I learned this. It is, as I said, I have a great background in terms of academia and experience, but when you think about the work that Joseph Smith did: Translating the Book of Mormon — and I don’t think there is one single time that I don’t think about him and the wonderful work that he did in so, in just, how many days? Let’s say it was a couple of days for how many pages? For hundreds of pages, in one language, a language that nobody knew at that time. And I look at this, and I compare many times I read the Book of Mormon in English, Spanish and Portuguese, to understand the three languages, and I understand — we cannot doubt this, there’s no doubt that he was guided by the Spirit. With all the knowledge that we can have in terms of languages, of culture, of languages’ history and background, I know we are not able to do anything close. The number of days when he translated, the accuracy of the translations, the vocabulary that he used — he was a third grade person in terms of instruction. That cannot happen. I know many people with all the degrees that you can think in the world, that they cannot write 10 pages, especially in translations. So what I know is that from the beginning, our Church was blessed by the gift of tongues. We have the Book of Mormon, thanks to a translation that would be impossible for most of us to do, if any of us could do just by the knowledge that they have. 

But this is something that I know now; is that, first of all, Joseph Smith did this translation with the power of God. The cultural messages, the gospel messages, the history messages that we have in that book are beyond our human understanding, and this was done by translation. If it was not for translation, we wouldn’t have the Book of Mormon, and if we didn’t have that translation into English, we wouldn’t have the Book of Mormon translated into so many languages today. 

So what I know is that we need to have the ability to be open to receive the inspiration, we need to be humble, to allow the Spirit to guide us. We need to be humble to not allow our intellectual, our academic, knowledge to interfere with our work for the Church. I know much better now that translating is not a simple thing of translating words — we can do that with Google Translate, or with a cousin of Google Translate sometimes. But it’s a work that combines the knowledge, of course, but with an open spirit to receive the inspiration. And when I think about this experience that I had a couple of days ago, I think about how the Lord, through prayer, helped me to be able to understand — not just my own language, but what the message needed to be. 

And I think this is the great job of having, of working with the Church, no matter in what capacity. We always have the Spirit to guide us, and I know many times that I would not be able to fix it if it wasn’t for the Spirit coming and saying, “Go back, check this and check that,” and I said, “Whoa, that’s cool. I would never find this.” So, you have to rejoice when you have the Spirit with you through a message that gives you a positive influence in your life, or a message that gives you comfort. I love watching the videos that we are having at Church News. They’re short messages, and I think so deeply about those messages, about the councils — especially the participation of women, and some countries just wanted to jump and yell and give a big hug to Sister [Camille N.] Johnson, to Sister [Bonnie H.] Cordon for the beautiful messages that they gave. This is the power of language, and this is the power of translations. We can cross many borders, but we need a little help from the Spirit to be able to get there.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com