As I walked home the other evening, I bumped into a couple walking with their five-month-old baby. The last time I saw them together was in a hospital room, immediately after the baby was born. Sally, the child’s mother, had experienced a blood clot, and things were tense. When I arrived at the hospital, there were a few people in the room:

  • Sally, lying on the bed, who communicates using sign language
  • her mum, who knows sign language and English
  • a hospital intern, who uses the local language, but neither English nor sign
  • a number of others who use sign
  • and me.

The intern walked into the room and, in the local language, asked me a very specific medical question. “Wait! Am I translating?” I asked myself. “I’m only here to provide emotional support.” But, of all those in the room, I was the only one the intern could talk to, so she started addressing her questions to me. 

I turned to Sally’s mum and repeated the question in English. She turned to her daughter, lying on the bed, and asked the question in sign language. Seeing her daughter’s response, she replied to me in English, and I replied to the intern in the local language. The intern asked a second question, more obscure and technical than the first. We repeated the process, and so the interview progressed.

It was getting late as we walked home from the hospital. I turned to Sally’s mum and said “It’s remarkable really, over the past few weeks I happened to be memorising an enormous collection of vocabulary in the local language for medical treatments, anatomy, and medical conditions… now I understand why! God just has a way of arranging things, doesn’t he?” “Yes, he does,” she replied. “And in such detail.”

From a Tranzsend worker in East Asia