International (MNN) — Deaf communities use more than 400 sign languages, but not a single one has a full Bible. Only a few dozen have any Scripture at all. Furthermore, ministries estimate that less than one-percent of the world’s 70 million Deaf people know Christ.
With such great need and so few Deaf Christians, who will do the work of sign language Bible translation?
Deaf Bible Society’s Mike Brabo says DBS works with Deaf believers worldwide to answer this question. “We make contact with Deaf Christians in a specific country to determine their interest, their vision [and] passion, and how we can come alongside them in the task of reaching their country with the Gospel,” he says, explaining how the process begins.
“As these conversations and the relationships develop, we then begin discussing establishing a sign language Bible translation in their native language.”
Why can’t Deaf just read the Bible?
Spiritual transformation is nearly impossible without God’s Word in a language the Deaf can understand. Reading a traditional print Bible can be difficult because it’s a written version of a spoken language.
English, for example, is both a spoken and written language. Many U.S. Deaf can read an English print Bible. However, that print Bible doesn’t provide the same “heart level” connection and understanding as Scripture in American Sign Language.
Signed languages are the first – or, “heart” – languages of Deaf communities worldwide. To get God’s Word into more sign languages, Deaf Bible Society helps Deaf believers form Bible translation teams.
“We encourage them to choose team members… who are actually maturing in their Christian faith,” Brabo says. “Ideally, [they will be] persons who have grown up all their lives in the Deaf community and are fluent in the local sign language. Having a teachable attitude is also crucial.”
Once Deaf believers hand-pick team members and a team leader, “we come alongside and provide training and equipping for specific roles that are needed on the translation team,” Brabo explains.
“We also make contact with different organizations and individuals to provide the funding for that team, and encourage the local churches to help fund at the level that they’re able to.”
I’m not Deaf… what can I do in Deaf ministry?
Even if you’re not Deaf, there’s a place for you in Deaf ministry. As a hearing person with skills in several sign languages and significant ministry experience, Brabo works in tandem with Deaf translators. However, his position is not one of superiority.
“My role is that of a servant,” Brabo explains. “My role is to come alongside, to pray for, to encourage” Deaf translation teams and leaders.
He encourages the same “servant heart” attitude for anyone looking to support sign language Bible translation. Visit Deaf Bible Society’s website for ways to help, and – most importantly – pray for Deaf believers around the world.
“Ask God to bless them, to equip them, that they may go translate the word of God and see their Deaf community transformed by the Gospel.”
Header image courtesy of Deaf Bible Society.