Yapese is a language spoken on a small Pacific island cluster called Yap State with a population of little more than 11,000. There are fewer than 500 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living there.
Kevin Flanigan, a member of the Buena Vista University 1st ward and Southern Virginia University senior from Washington D.C., served 21 months of his mission for the Church there and grew to love the people. During the 180th Annual General Conference for the Church, he will have the chance to interpret the conference talks into Yapese for the members.
“It makes me really happy because there are people back on my island who I know could not receive General Conference any other way,” Flanigan said. “To know that I am being an instrument in our Heavenly Father’s hands is really humbling and at the same time it’s a really empowering feeling. I love it. Words cannot describe it.”
Flanigan served in the Micronesia Guam Mission and remembers his mission president, President Michael L. Dowdle, counseling him to learn the Yapese language well, because he would continue to serve the Church afterwards. Flanigan never imagined this would be the way.
“Yapese was not taught to me while in the MTC,” Flanigan said. “It’s a language that only a few thousand speak. Learning it we basically had to take whatever materials available such as a dictionary, a small language package that the Church gave us made by other missionaries and a copy of the Book of Mormon. “
After his mission, Flanigan headed east to attend Southern Virginia University. Shortly after classes started, he received a phone call from a former mission companion, Brandon Winter, who recruited him to help interpret General Conference talks into Yapese.
“The greatest way in which my mission prepared me for General Conference, is that it gave me a testimony of the truthfulness of the gift of tongues,” Flanigan said. “It taught me that there was help. On my mission I learned about how the gift of tongues is a spiritual gift available to those in the Lord’s service.”
For most languages, between five to ten individuals are members of the interpretation team. If possible, these are native speakers of the language, but skilled non-native speakers, including returned missionaries, may also be asked to interpret.
In anticipation for interpreting, Flanigan constantly reads, speaks and writes in Yapese. Occasionally during classes, Flanigan will mentally interpret what his professors and others say into Yapese. He also reads the Book of Mormon in Yapese, which helps him remember the different vowel sounds. All this will help him match the speed and tone of the individual speaking as he interprets it into Yapese.
To prepare spiritually, Flanigan has prayed and fasted in Yapese. He has also read the standard works in Yapese and plans to attend the temple the day before conference.
General Conference for the Church, with more members outside the United States than inside, will be translated into 92 languages with as many as 800 different translators and interpreters involved in helping bring Conference to many who otherwise would be unable to understand the words spoken.
Although, more than 90% of Church members could be reached through English, Spanish and Portuguese, interpreting conference into as many languages as possible is vital for Church membership because receiving instruction in one’s language helps enhance understanding and application of Church teachings.
As Doctrine and Convents 90:11 says, “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Flanigan is looking forward to aiding once again in the preaching of the Gospel. To him, bringing the language to members in their native tongue no matter how remote so they can gain a testimony of the Gospel is what matters.
“To me, I think we have to remember that we are Heavenly Father’s greatest joy,” Flanigan said. “Like it says in Doctrine and Covenants, if you can bring one soul unto Christ, how great will be your joy. How great shall be your joy if you should bring many. I don’t think that you can put a price on bringing the living scriptures to people because it gives them a chance to hear modern revelation that is pertinent to them in their lives.”