Communication is Mission

A wonderful update from Melodie Woerman:

Yesterday’s “Brother, Give Us a Word” offered this definition of “mission,” a sometimes ephemeral concept for me:

“Mission is primarily about making the presence of God incarnate, that is, visible and tangible, in a particular place and a particular time, where ever “the Body is lacking”and therefore most needed.”

I have just returned from the Episcopal Communicator’s Conference in Kanuga, NC.  This is an annual conference where many of the communications people from the Episcopal Church come together for workshops, plenary talks, renewal and fellowship.  It is a great opportunity to share ideas and recharge for the work we have to do in the coming year.  One of the themes that came out of this year’s conference is “Communication is Mission”.  I’d like to share an experience that happened for some of us after the conference that helped to bring that message home.

Yesterday we left the conference and headed to the airport in Asheville, NC.  Four of us, Norah, Bill, Melodie and myself were on the same flight to Atlanta.  While we were sitting in the waiting area at our gate, a young man came up to us and asked if we were on the flight to Atlanta.  After replying that we were, he asked if we could watch over his mother who was traveling to Atlanta and then to Frankfurt, Germany.  She was on her way home to Moldova and spoke only Moldovan and Russian.  Her son wanted to make sure she was able to get on the plane and make her connection in Atlanta.  We told him we would be happy to oblige.  He brought his mother over to us.  She looked just like the babushkas that you see in the films with the kerchief tied about her head, clutching her two carry on bags.

We smiled at her and then her son said his goodbyes to her.  It was a touching moment as tears welled up in her eyes when she kissed her son goodbye.  She sat back down and stared out the window waiting for the plane.  We would periodically glance over and smile just to let her know we were watching out for her.

Naturally, the plane was late.  Every time the gate agent came on the PA with an update, she would look at us for explanation.  We would try and use hand gestures to explain what was going on with no success.  Suddenly Bill had this great idea.  Why not use the iPad to communicate with her?  Brilliant idea!  I quickly connected the the WiFi in the airport and went to translate.google.com.  I set up the languages as English and Russian (no Moldovan option) and typed out “flight delayed because of rain, will be here in 25 minutes” and hit the translate button.   She read the Russian translation and while I don’t know how good the translation was, she got the drift.  A man sitting next to us saw what we were doing and said “my wife speaks Russian, let me get her on the phone and she can explain further.”  He hands her the phone and the woman of the other end is able to further clarify what is going on.

I find out that another cool thing that the iPad does is it allows you to customize your keyboard based on language. This internationalization allowed me to convert the keyboard to Cyrillic (Russian), so she can now type in Russian and use the Google program to translate back into English.  Pretty cool stuff!

So now we are ready to board after an hour delay.  I walked with my new friend to the ticket counter to board our flight.  She reached into her bag for her boarding pass and hands it to the ticket agent.  She is not on this flight, but the next flight that went to Atlanta!  I explain to the agent that we were asked to make sure she got on the plane and can she get on this flight?  By now, my babushka friend is getting quite confused and agitated.  I typed on the iPad “they are changing you to this plane. no problem.”  She read out loud each translated Russian word and surprisingly, “no problem” in Russian sounds just like it does in English!  She relaxes, we get her boarding pass and luggage transferred.  As we walked to the plane, she looked at me and says in Russian “no problem?”  I smiled back and replied “no problem.”  We got on the plane and I explained the situation to the flight attendant.  He gets her seated and puts her bags in the overhead.  I tell her “no problem” one more time then head to my seat.

When we got off the plane in Atlanta, I immediately looked for my friend to help her in the next part of her travels.  Fortunately, an agent for the airlines was waiting for her with a wheelchair to take her and her bags to the gate for her flight to Frankfurt.  I smiled, took her hand and wished her a pleasant trip.  The iPad was not used in this case.  The look of gratitude in her eyes transcended technologies and the language barrier.  Communication is mission.

7 thoughts on “Communication is Mission

  1. In this age of complaining about flight travel, kudos also to the airline for changing her flight and, in Atlanta (I have hauled my family across the airport many times: it’s HUGE! and daunting to native English speakers), for meeting her at the gate and helping her make the transfer.

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