Saints Hear Conference in Georgian for First Time

Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 14 October 2011

For the first time, Church members in T’bilisi, Georgia, were able to hear general conference in their native language.

“It makes such a difference when you hear conference in your native tongue. … I could never feel it so deeply before because of the language barrier, but this time it was incredible.”—Lela Tsnobiladze, member of the Avlabari Branch in T’bilisi, Georgia.

A week after the Sunday morning session of the October 2011 general conference, senior missionary Elder David W. Reese stood in front of an assembled congregation of 35 members and missionaries from the country of Georgia and read aloud part of 2 Nephi 31:3: “For [the Lord God] speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.”

With that, conference began playing, and members were able to listen to it in their native Georgian tongue for the first time ever.

Hearing Conference in Georgian

Because of the time difference between Salt Lake City and Georgia, the five sessions of general conference are received in Georgia via satellite in the middle of the night during conference weekend. They are put on a hard drive and then transferred to DVDs, which are played for members the following week.

Up until the October 2011 conference, the 50 or so active members in the country had the option of listening to conference in either Russian or English. However, there were many who spoke only Georgian.

“Those members who don’t speak Russian or English would just try to get what they could out of it, but it was hard,” Elder Reese said. “Some of them just didn’t come.”

This conference was different. One week before general conference, Elder Reese and his wife, Sister Jody Reese, found out that the talks that would be given during the Sunday session would be translated into Georgian by a local member.

There wasn’t much time to publicize it, but the missionaries contacted as many members as possible to let them know. On the day conference would be played, two interpreters—both members—took turns reading the translated conference talks as the DVDs played. The DVDs played in either Russian or English, and the Georgian version was transmitted to Georgian speakers through headsets.

Through tears, member Lela Tsnobiladze expressed her feelings: “I was so happy to be able to hear President Thomas S. Monson’s address to us in Georgian. I had shivers; it makes such a difference when you hear it in your native tongue. I knew he was a prophet, but this time the Spirit was so strong, I wanted everyone to feel what I felt. It touched my soul, my body, my heart. He was talking to me; the prophet of God was so close, speaking directly to me in my language. What a spirit. … I could never feel it so deeply before because of the language barrier, but this time it was incredible.”

The event, however, did not happen without members overcoming several obstacles.

On the morning members were to watch conference, Elder and Sister Reese—who are senior missionaries in Georgia, providing humanitarian and member-leader support—printed copies of the translated talks for the interpreters to use. Georgian doesn’t use capitalization or punctuation, and even the letters of the language look nothing like those of English or Russian. Because the Reeses are not Georgian-speakers, they didn’t realize that the printer had run all of the words together.

One interpreter returned home to print them off again, but his printer and computer wouldn’t work at first. An hour after conference was supposed to begin, he finally returned with properly printed copies of the talks. Members had listened to the Saturday sessions of conference in Russian and English the day before and were now patiently waiting to hear the Sunday sessions in their native language.

Interpreter Mzia Kavtaradze had been given the huge job of translating the Sunday talks into her native Georgian. She hadn’t slept much in the days leading up to the conference—the challenge of translating not only the messages, but also never-before-translated passages of scripture and hymns was almost overwhelming.

“I was going to give up, but the Spirit came over me, and I felt as if angels were there encouraging me to finish the work,” she said. “I knew I didn’t have the right to give up. … I know it because of all those people who felt the Spirit, whose hearts were touched because they heard it in their native language. They heard the words that were sent into my mind by the Holy Spirit of God. I know that the Lord wanted me to do it, and He helped me to do His work.”

“I think when members can hear the gospel in their native language, the Spirit speaks to them more strongly,” Sister Reese said. “They can feel the prophet’s words. You can just see it in their eyes, in their being. They are filled with the Spirit.”

Following their experiences on Sunday, October 9, 2011, Church members in Georgia agreed.

Relief Society president Liana Igityan said, “What a miracle to feel the love of our Lord inside my heart. What a miracle to listen to a prophet’s words in our time and testify to our brothers and sisters!”

Husband and wife Gurami Sarjveladze and Tamari Khizanishvili both remarked on the special blessing of hearing President Thomas S. Monson’s words interpreted into Georgian.

The story President Monson told on Sunday morning about regaining five dollars he thought he’d lost especially touched investigator Sereo Samarghnishvili.

“I am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to listen to conference in Georgian and to share my feelings on what the prophets are telling us,” member Keti Tsankashvili said. “I have waited a long time for this event and am happy because of everything I learned.”

Elder Reese, who also acts as president of the Avlabari Branch, said the interpretation of Sunday’s sessions into Georgian was an expression of the Lord’s love for each of His children.

“He wants all of them to know Him and understand Him and know that He will speak to them,” he said. “He does that through the Spirit, but he also does that through instances like this.”

Unto All Nations, Kindreds, Tongues, and People

Direction concerning which languages Church materials will be translated into comes from the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The Translation Division of the Church operates according to the Worldwide Translation Plan, which outlines phases, or levels, a language goes through based on how many members speak that language. Church materials are produced in a language according to what level it reaches. As the number of members who speak a given language increases, more materials will be produced in that language.

Requests for a language to receive materials under the Worldwide Translation Plan come from Area Presidencies, who monitor the area’s language needs and make recommendations to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

In August the missionary manual Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service became available in Georgian. Elder Reese said he could see that the members were excited to use it. “It strengthened their testimonies,” he said.

His hope is that the Book of Mormon will be translated into Georgian soon.

“When that comes out, it will be a wonderful thing,” he said. “It’s really hard to be in a branch where three languages are spoken. People get lost in the cracks when they can’t understand it all.”

Many months ago, Elder Reese recorded an experience in his personal journal that showed what it means to members to have Church materials translated into their language:

We had a meeting with Sister Nana. The missionaries showed her the just-finished copy of the movie Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration, which has been dubbed over in Georgian. At the end of the movie there were tears streaming down her face. She had seen the movie several times before in Russian. Finally, she was able to hear and see the Joseph Smith story in her own language. It was totally different to be able to see and hear it in Georgian. She wants to show the movie to her nonmember friends who only speak Georgian. For me it was a small glimpse into the future, when more of the Church materials and especially the Book of Mormon will be in Georgian. Then the Church will really blossom in Georgia.

“That was the real turning point for me—where I gained my testimony of the importance of people hearing the gospel in their own language,” Elder Reese said.