PC(USA) using technology to expand translation services; shares strong financials – The Presbyterian Outlook

PC(USA), A Corporation board meeting on Oct. 29, 2021. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Global Language Resources of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is moving in new directions – including increased reliance on machine translation services – that should mean more PC(USA) material gets translated into languages other than English, and that translation is done more quickly and possibly in more languages.

During a Zoom meeting on Oct. 29, Manager of Global Languages Resources Jason Raff told the board of the PC(USA), A Corporation that “there’s a lot of demand for translation” in the denomination, “and that’s a good thing.”

But the growing demand for translation services, along with the recognition that having material available in multiple languages is an equity issue, creates challenges, Raff said. With a small staff of linguists, the increased demand has meant that some translation projects either got delayed or outsourced to contract translators at “premium cost,” Raff told the board.

Jason Raff. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

So Global Language Services is moving in a new direction with increased reliance on a machine translation service to increase capacity. Raff said there are about 50 machine translation services on the market – including some well-known names like Google Translate – and each has different strengths. Some are better translating in particular languages; some are stronger in handling particular types of content such as financial reports or more literary work.

Global Language Services is working with a firm called Intento, which has contractual arrangements with a range of machine translation firms and will select the best possibility for a particular project, Raff said. The plan is to use machine translation as the first step to save time and money; then, linguists from Global Languages Resources will review the accuracy of the translation.

Since this approach saves both time and money, more material can be translated and done more quickly, he said. For example, it typically takes a linguist several hours to translate a Presbyterian News Service story into Spanish or Korean. Using machine translation, with review by a linguist, might take 75 minutes.

Machine translation will be useful for PC(USA) material except for documents that require significant subject matter expertise or very specific language — such as constitutional or legal documents or deeply theological work, Raff said. This was demonstrated when testing machine translation with a recent Advent resource that included extensive citations of Bible passages. “We basically had to start from scratch” and rely on existing Bible translations, he said.

Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

With less precise material, machine translation has performed well, Raff said. The hope: that machine translation will mean more material will be available in languages other than English, including items on the PC(USA) website and the full rationale for business items coming to the General Assembly.

Global Language Resources is beginning to translate into more languages as well, as requested – with a few resources now available in Chinese, Portuguese, Arabic and French.

Raff’s advice to those sending overtures and reports to the 2022 General Assembly: the earlier those materials are submitted, the better. And machine translation works better with simpler language — with fewer Presbyterian buzzwords and less convoluted sentences. “I dare say it’s better for human readers too to understand what you are trying to say,” he said. “To the extent that people can simplify the way they express themselves, the better.”

Budget. Ian Hall, the A Corporation’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, presented a financial report showing an increase in total net assets of $153 million as of Sept. 30, compared to Sept. 30, 2021. One big reason: a $97 million market value increase in long-term investments held by the Presbyterian Foundation. The PC(USA) received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of nearly $8 million early in the COVID-19 pandemic that now has been forgiven.

Contributions are $5.8 million over budget — including some large donations to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. And spending is down, mostly because the pandemic has halted most in-person meetings and staff travel, although Hall said less is being spent for some ministry programs as well.

Refugee support. Knowing that refugees from Afghanistan would be arriving in the United States soon – many of them having left their homes in chaotic conditions and bringing nothing – employees at the PC(USA) national offices in Louisville and the Presbyterian Foundation office in southern Indiana wanted to help. So, representatives reached out to Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a resettlement agency in Louisville, offering to help a family.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries responded that the Afghan families hadn’t arrived yet — but a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo had, and needed help. In response, PC(USA) employees partnered with Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville to raise more than $3,000 to support the family and fill a space at the PC(USA) national office building with furniture, appliances, a bicycle and other donations.

As word got around, “the trickle turned into a flood” of household goods, couches, bedding and more, said Mike Kirk, a lawyer for the church. “This has been a really tremendous group effort,” with enough collected to furnish two additional apartments for Afghan refugees as they begin to arrive, said Ruth Gardner, manager of human resources.

“Everyone needed something like this to get our focus off of us and in the right place,” said Kathy Lueckert, the A Corporation president. “It’s been a real blessing for all of us.”

Warren Lesane. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Presbyterian Mission Agency restructuring. Warren Lesane, chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency board, provided an update on the comprehensive restructuring the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) is undertaking — with the board approving new vision and mission statements earlier this month and with more details and next steps to come at the board’s next meeting Feb. 9-11.

That restructuring likely will result in a more decentralized staff, with fewer people working in Louisville and closer relationships built at the local levels, because “that’s where the rubber hits the road” in ministry, Lesane said. The focus will shift to engagement with local and regional efforts, and with work concentrated in “fewer communities overall,” he said.

Instead of mission co-workers only working internationally, think of people being deployed domestically, perhaps “on the Navajo reservation or the South Side of Chicago” – in places where they are invited to support work being done, said Diane Moffett, PMA’s president and executive director.

Moffett said a consultants’ report calls for two new offices to be created in Louisville: one for repair and reparations and another for innovation. “The church is always responding instead of initiating,” Moffett said, but needs to take the lead in thinking about future possibilities for work in areas such as bivocational and digital ministry.

Diane Moffett. Screenshot by Leslie Scanlon.

Moffett said she’s pleased to hear that the PC(USA)’s net assets have increased because “now is the time to pour in” resources — starting with the 2023 and 2024 budgets that will go to the 2022 General Assembly for approval.

“I thank God for where we are now,” said A Corporation board member Bridget-Anne Hampden. “This is going to be a revolutionary change for the denomination. I’m pleased and very happy that God has led us in this direction.”

Closed session. After a closed session, the board announced that it had conducted an annual performance review of Lueckert and expressed “deep appreciation for the capable and exceptional leadership” she has provided, “especially during this extraordinary time in the life of the church and the world.”