I walked into the room to talk to a patient’s family. They weren’t around. There was a person sitting just inside the door. I asked if she was family. She shook her head. As I fumbled to figure out who she was, a nurse came in and I soon discovered that she was the sign interpreter. The patient was deaf.

A couple days earlier, there was a scheduling struggle to get an interpreter to stand between the patient and the doctor. A patient has the right to have an interpreter present when a doctor is giving information. Not family, who might not understand the language or the intent. Not other staff or volunteers, who might not understand the interpreter’s commitment to transparency of communication. It’s not that the interpreter is any more special than anyone else. It’s just that they are trained and committed to work hard to foster understanding between two persons.

serviceA couple weeks after that conversation, in the same room I think, I walked into the room to talk to a different patient and family member. When I asked what I could do to help, the family member excitedly said to the patient, “Ask him the question you had.”

A devotional was found, and I read the sentence from the Bible that was at the top of the page. “What does that mean?” they asked.

It was a good question. The sentence was part of a story that I often tell, about Martha and Mary. But with just the one sentence, the story isn’t clear. And the devotional didn’t explain the story.

So I stood between the text and the patient and interpreted.

The patient followed along. I’m pretty sure that the story made sense, and that God’s desire for relationship was evident.

It reminded me of the value of interpreters who listen and repeat. It’s important to be accurate. It’s important to not take the reactions personally. And it’s important to be available. Because everyone can use an interpreter from time to time to understand God’s words.