Celebrating the painted Word: sign language

By September 2, 2015
(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

International (MNN) — Pictorial languages are languages that use images to portray a meaning. Cuneiform, Hieroglyphs, Hebrew, Chinese, and Arabic are among a few.

With these languages, people are able to communicate ideas and pass on information, values, and traditions through stories. The same is true of sign languages. Each word is a phrase painted in a signing space–a kind of invisible picture frame where all the action is happening.

For as artistic as the method of communication is, it’s often overlooked and undervalued, as are its users. That’s also true in areas where the Church has been involved. In fact, it’s only been recently where Bible translation groups have begun to understand the nature of the unreached people groups in the Deaf community (roughly 15% to 18%).

For years, people have assumed that the Deaf communities’ access to God’s Word came through the actual text of a bound Bible. However, “The number one thing that I always have to help hearing people to understand is that it’s virtually impossible for them [people who were born without hearing] to read, and that’s why we have to do a video in their heart language sign language,” explains Mike Buus, President of DOOR International.

Buus says he was prodded into action years ago by a constant tap on the shoulder from God. The Deaf community kept coming to him and asking for his help. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of Invention.” First, explains Buus, ”The Deaf are story tellers, and they pass communication and information through telling each other stories or giving each other information.” He agreed to help train a Deaf community in evangelism and church planting. It picked up speed. Soon it had grown to an international ministry.

Success! In the early years, “They were setting up Deaf Believers’ Fellowships, and we did that for about 5 or 6 years; we worked with deaf from 47 countries during that period of time.” Then they did some research to chart the effectiveness of this approach. Here’s what they discovered. In some cases, “They had established a Deaf Believers’ Fellowship, or in some cases, a couple of them, but they weren’t really reproducing.”

In any church planting movement, stunted growth begs the question “Why?”

Buus had an “aha” moment. “How do you teach a Bible study if you don’t have a Bible, and nobody in your small group or your Bible study group has a Bible?” As he began to see the need, he came to understand that not only was the job sharing the hope of Christ with the Deaf, but it was also providing them with a Bible. He entered the world of serious Bible translation (with the help of partners like Wycliffe Bible Translators, SIL, and others).

Their solution: ”We are going to do Bible translation so that we can do church planting, and we do those two in combination.” DOOR is developing a TOPICAL STUDY BIBLE for the Deaf in sign languages on DVDs, flash drives, and Web site. Of course, the final product may give a whole new meaning to the word “Bible.”

(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

So far, it consists of 3 series:

  • KNOW GOD HOW? (evangelism) – 32 story sets
  • FOLLOW GOD HOW? (discipleship) – 77 story sets
  • SERVE GOD HOW? (church planting) – 35 story sets

“We have teams in Africa and India that we call ‘Two-By-Two’ teams, based on Jesus sending the disciples out two by two. Each one of those teams has an evangelist and a teacher.” Armed with these stories, Buus says, ”They go out on street corners, and they’ll tell Bible stories to each other where they know the Deaf are walking. And the Deaf will come over and ask, ‘Who are you? What do you do?’ They’ll say, ‘I’m a storyteller,’ and the inevitable [response] is, ‘Tell me a story.’”

DOOR continues to develop and provide Deaf people with training and materials for evangelism, discipleship, establishment of Deaf believers’ fellowships, and development of Christian leadership. The hope is that translating God’s Word into sign languages will lead to unstoppable church-planting movements in the Deaf communities of the world.

Current Sign Language Translations underway:

  1. Kenyan Sign Language
  2. Kerala (India) Sign Language
  3. Burundian Sign Language
  4. Ethiopian Sign Language
  5. Ghanaian Sign Language
  6. Ugandan Sign Language
  7. Tanzanian Sign Language
  8. American Sign Language
  9. Nigerian Sign Language
  10. Karnatka (India) Sign Language
  11. Andhra Pradesh (India) Sign Language
  12. Tamil Nadu (India) Sign Language
  13. A Sign Language in Asia
(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

(Photo courtesy DOOR India)

Here’s what this has become: a dance of the heart that illustrates God’s love to the Deaf. For Buus, it’s also an ‘audacious goal’ to train and equip a Deaf Christian leadership team from every country of the world in one generation. For that, he says, “There’s going to have to be a lot of gearing up of a lot more resources: human resources and financial resources, if we truly are going to finish the task.”

Click here for ways you get involved.


  • Praise the lord, this is good news! I’ m not deaf, but have been praying for a translation for the deaf ever since the possibility was mentioned in something read. God is good! May He bless you abundantly.

  • Karen says:

    Thank you so much for this ministry! I think it is an amazing idea and pray for your continued work and blessings on you.

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