Global Service Center turns to BYU for translation


A new program through BYU’s Y-Serve will work with the Global Service Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to translate correspondence between countries with less common languages and LDS Church headquarters.

When Steve Wood decided to start volunteering with Y-Serve, he didn’t realize he would soon lead a collaboration project with the main offices of the Church.

A week after the 24-year-old electrical engineering major applied to be a program director, the Global Service Center contacted BYU asking for volunteers. Wood and several other leaders at the Center for Service and Learning met with GSC spokespeople in Salt Lake City to work out the details of the new program.

The GSC exists to provide support for LDS Church congregations around the world. When international wards or branches need to contact LDS Church headquarters for anything from budget reports to disciplinary action, they go through the GSC.

Formerly there were service center branches in several countries, which reported to the main service center in Salt Lake City, but the LDS Church recently decided to consolidate the organization. Instead of contacting the German center for information about a branch in Denmark, all calls and emails would go to Utah.

Having all of the information and communication going through one office makes it easier for the needs of the LDS Church to be addressed quickly, but the need for translators for more obscure languages has increased. Rather than keep professionals on payroll to translate one or two emails a month, the GSC turned to an organization with a strong history of volunteer work and a large bilingual population: Brigham Young University.

Working with the GSC, the Center for Service and Learning is developing a new program called Global Service to facilitate communication within the LDS Church.

According to the official description of the new program, “BYU volunteers will participate in first translating an email received by the Global Service Center. After their email is returned to the GSC, a response will be sent back to the volunteer. The volunteer will then translate the response, return it to the GSC, where it may then be sent to the original sender.”

They have already received emails and are gathering volunteers to translate. Although it can be difficult to find students who speak Finnish or Malagasy, it is not impossible.

“When needs arise, the resources are there,” Theodore Okawa, one of the BYU service coordinators, said.

The resource BYU has to offer is an abundance of returned missionaries. When the GSC approached the university service center in July, they had an immediate need for translators. The Y-Serve directors had to immediately begin searching for fluent speakers of languages such as Armenian, Norwegian and Danish, and the initial search mainly began with word of mouth.

“Our volunteers would say, ‘I know someone who speaks that language,’ and we’d contact them,” Okawa explained.

A Facebook page and Google document have since been set up to spread the word about the program and allow prospective volunteers to sign up to help. While there isn’t a constant barrage of correspondence, since the program’s inception less than a month ago, the program has received emails in Swedish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian and Norwegian.

“We actually have an email in Dutch sitting there right now,” Wood said. “We have a translator, we just need to get in touch with him.”

Although the program is in its early days, Wood is excited for the chance the program gives BYU and hopeful for its success. He says he hasn’t had time to stop and think about his new responsibilities. The work must be done.

Unlike other programs the Y-Serve office participates in, Global Service is not a service project or a weekly trip to assist with a need in the community.

“It’s a different service opportunity,” Wood said. “You won’t put in nearly as much time, but you have to be prompt and ready to respond. The authorities expect a response in 24 hours. It’s a perfect opportunity for people who want to serve but don’t want to do projects.”

Sixteen languages are currently included in the program, mostly from eastern European countries. African languages will be added as the number of volunteers increases.

To find out how to get involved with the program, visit the Global Service BYU Facebook Page.

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