International (MNN) — There are over 400 different Sign Languages worldwide, but less than 1% have a complete translation of the Bible. Millions are part of the deaf community, and yet, more than half remain illiterate.
It’s fair to say the Deaf community is one of the largest unreached people groups in the world.
But, Deaf Bible Society is making a change to address nearly 80% of the community by the year 2025.
Why So Many Are Illiterate
In certain cultures, deaf people are looked at negatively. They are seen as slow or even demon-possessed. Parents will often times cut them off from society, keep children from school, and hide them from sight. In some cases, they will abandon the child altogether.
In other cultures where deaf people are seen as equal, they still remain at a disadvantage.
“Like you and [me], we were in a home; we could hear our parents speaking around us, speaking to us, about us, and we entered school with about a 5,000-word vocabulary,” explains J.R. Bucklew of Deaf Bible.
“This deaf child never hears a thing. They don’t hear you speaking to them, about them, for them, around them. And, they pick up very few gestures. You might create some home signs, but they enter into school with about a 50-word vocabulary.”
Bucklew says in the US, 65% of deaf Americans are illiterate.
Hearing people don’t understand that Sign Language is a separate language.
“People misunderstand and assume that it’s just a hand motion or a gesture for every English word, and you do it in the same order: kind of like we’re doing…charades or something,” Bucklew says.
“And it’s not that at all. American Sign Language is it’s own language. It has its own syntax, so grammar structures, language rules, everything, is completely different from English.”
Deaf Bible Reborn
Several years back, a Faith Comes By Hearing Regional Manager went to visit a listening group, ironically, at a deaf school.
“All of the sudden, that night, about 20 deaf children showed up at this gathering and were insisting that they were told what that box was telling the people.”
Bucklew says they were able to find an interpreter for the 20 children, but “this manager realized, ‘We were talking about getting God’s Word to every person and we’ve completely forgotten about the deaf.’”
Since Faith Comes By Hearing creates audio Bibles, it seemed there was no way to reach out to the deaf community. But, they found a solution by launching a Deaf Bible App in 2012.
“The Deaf Bible App, today, has about 16 languages in it, over 500,000 users worldwide–just tremendous distribution,” Bucklew says.
In 2013, Deaf Bible was born as a part of Faith Comes By Hearing. Since the deaf community was in such desperate need of help and interpretation, the division grew rapidly.
“Through that process we began to realize that one of our biggest complications in engaging deaf communities with the Scripture was going to be the fact that there were very few amounts of translation projects going on. There wasn’t enough content to engage deaf communities around the world,” Bucklew explains.
“Faith Comes By Hearing is not involved in Bible translations, but we’re seeing an increasing need for us to be involved in translation when it comes to Sign Language.”
That’s why Deaf Bible is now separating from Faith Comes By Hearing and becoming its own ministry.
They’re partnering with ministries like DOOR International, Deaf Mission, Asia Pacific, Sign Language Development Association, and Wycliffe Bible Translators for help with the translation.
“We figure any support we can give them, the better–whether that’s fundraising, promoting, building awareness, and making the reality of the deaf community known among our hearing brothers and sisters,” Bucklew says.
Deaf Bible is also working on educating the hearing church.
“We’re taking the role for the Bible translation organizations to say, ‘We will do four things. We will work on deaf awareness, education, access, and funding – so D.E.A.F.’”
They want to have translation projects for 75% of the Deaf population by 2025.
“Right now we see about 34 sign language projects going on in the world. And we’ve identified 10 languages that if we could start projects in those 10 people groups, these 44 languages…could represent about 80% of the world’s deaf population.”
As this dream is turning into a reality, Deaf Bible could use your help. Pray for the projects to reach millions and give them hope in Jesus. Also, you can become a financial partner to sponsor projects around the globe.