International (MNN) — There is a massive spiritual hunger among the Deaf. And Christians aren’t the only religious group taking notice.
For many Deaf people, a sign language is their first language or their “heart language.” Unfortunately, sign language resources aren’t widely available in public spaces — both secular and religious. In some cultures, Deaf people and signing are even shunned as a curse or blight on the community.
This makes is especially difficult for Deaf individuals wrestling with spiritual questions. And it’s natural for them to gravitate towards something — anything — that will offer spiritual answers in their heart language and feed the hunger in their souls.
DOOR International’s President and CEO Rob Myers says, “Many times, we encounter Deaf people who’ve been in churches or they’ve been in mosques or they’ve been in Hindu temples or Buddhist temples…just with the desire and the idea to know more information about God from someone who knows their heart language.”
Ministries like DOOR helped pioneer the Deaf mission field. But to date, there is still not one sign language that has a full Bible translation. That’s why DOOR and their partners are working tirelessly to translate portions of Scripture into sign languages for the Deaf.
However, other religions are catching on to the spread of Christianity in Deaf communities, and they are starting their own outreaches to the Deaf.
“One of the classic examples that we run into — not in any one specific part of the world, but really globally — is Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a huge Deaf outreach and they know many Deaf people and they’ve produced a number of materials in sign language. Many times, they have a stronghold in Deaf communities where otherwise there is no Gospel access at all,” Myers says.
DOOR ran into Jehovah’s Witnesses in a particular South Asian country. “Deaf people shared with us that they would really love to have access at a church, but right now Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones that actually share any information in the sign language of the community. So a lot of Deaf people attend those services and attend those organizations even if they’re not all that happy with it because they don’t have an alternative.
“As we began to work with that community and…begin to train some of their own leaders in evangelism and church planting, we helped them start a sign language Bible translation. That information is now getting out into the community and is having an incredible effect.”
Hindu groups in South Asia are also starting sign language translations of Hindu scriptures.
However, all of these religious groups offering conflicting information in sign languages to Deaf communities isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Myers says, “We know that God’s Word is unique and it’s powerful and effective. We don’t take this as a significant hindrance, but instead, it’s going to continue to highlight the difference that Scripture has in the lives of people everywhere.”
Because of these new developments in Deaf access, DOOR is starting to incorporate apologetics – or learning to defend the Christian faith – into their ministry for the first time ever.
Myers references 1 Peter 3:15b as the heart of apologetics, which says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Of course, the most critical factor for knowing your faith and explaining it to others is access to Scripture in your heart language.
“We want them to know Scripture backwards and forwards,” Myers says. “We want them to have a vibrant, deep relationship with Christ so that when these other ideas come, they can immediately spot the counterfeits.”
But how can Deaf believers know Scripture and defend their faith if none of them have a full Bible? The issue comes full circle and re-emphasizes the importance of getting the Bible translated into all sign languages.
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Then, Myers asks, “Pray for the Bible translators that are working on access to these resources. Pray for the leaders who are continuing to dive deep into Scripture, that they would recognize counterfeits and that they would be able to speak truth in gentleness and respect as they’re witnessing in their own communities.
“And continue to pray for our organization as we look at helping more and more communities begin to do some of this critical work, both in terms of Bible translation and in terms of evangelism and church planting by indigenous Deaf leaders in their own communities.”
Header photo courtesy of Pixabay.