The Bible says that when ancient apostles met on the day of Pentecost they spoke miraculously in "other tongues" - and visiting foreigners were surprised to hear the words of church leaders in their native languages.
An army of translators this week is observing the 20th anniversary of helping create similar miracles regularly for foreign visitors to general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.The 158th Semiannual Conference of the church will be Saturday and Sunday, with general sessions each day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and the priesthood session at 6 p.m. on Saturday. General sessions will be broadcast locally on KSL-TV, Channel 5, and on KSL Radio, AM 1160.
Although occasional translations at nearby sites had been provided for some foreign-language groups, it wasn't until 1968 that the church began to provide translation for visitors through headphone systems in the Tabernacle.
Rodney Fakatou, one of the original translators in 1968, remembers that the church set up an old Army tent for translators in the just-excavated basement in the Tabernacle.
"It was real noisy. The other translators would talk loud so they could be heard over us into their microphones, and we would talk louder so we could be heard. Pretty soon, everyone was yelling into their mikes," he said.
The church's translation service has come far from that beginning.
For example, in 1968 a handful of volunteers offered translation into four languages - French, German, Spanish and Tongan.
This conference, 250 to 300 volunteers will translate into 30 languages - the original four plus Cambodian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Lingala(a language of Zaire), Mandarin, Navajo, Norwegian, Polish, Portugese, Samoan, Serbo-Croation (a language of Yugoslavia), Swedish, Tahitian, Thai and Vietnamese. It also will offer sign language translation for deaf visitors.
Translation into Lingala is being offered for the first time this conference, said Eb Davis, director of church translation.
When Davis was asked whether the church's army of volunteer translators rivaloperations at the United Nations, he said: "We don't rival it, we surpass it. The U.N. works only with diplomats and translates only into six languages. That would be a piece of cake. We deal with people from all walks of life and translate into 30 languages."
Another difference from 20 years ago is that foreign visitors do not have to go to the Tabernacle to hear live translations.
Twelve languages will be sent over the Westar 4 satellite and can be picked up throughout North America. Davis said the most languages that had been sent over the satellite before was three. Some translations also are sent to foreign-language gatherings over telephone lines.
And the church also produces video and audio cassettes for members in areas the satellite transmissions do not reach. Davis said Lingala, for example, will be recorded only on audio cassette because not many video cassette players are available in Zaire.
Translators today also enjoy use of modern recording and translation studios in the basement of the Tabernacle. Instead of trying to yell over each other as translators did 20 years ago, each translator has a private sound-proof booth equipped with monitors.
Volunteers also rehearse translating weeks before conference begins, in practice sessions. Almost all are native speakers of the tongues to which they will translate. But for some of the more exotic languages, a few returned missionarieswho are native English speakers are used.