Deaf-centric Scripture engagement: why?

By April 11, 2019

USA (MNN) — Today begins a new two-part series focusing on the Deaf community. Scripture engagement is a known concept in the hearing Church, but it’s severely lacking in the Deaf world.

Donna Valverde-Hummel works with Deaf Bible Society on developing new Deaf-centric Scripture engagement methods.

“Scripture engagement for Deaf people is not only reading the printed Bible,” she explains.

“It’s not wrong, we’re ok with that, but there’s sign language Scripture and that is the language of Deaf people. That’s the heart language, the language we easily understand, absorb, and connect to on a deeper emotional level.”

Why won’t existing methods work?

SIL International defines Scripture engagement as “accessing, understanding and interacting meaningfully with the life-changing message of the Scriptures.” Specific engagement methods vary by language group and culture; what resonates with one people group might not be effective for another.

Sign language Scripture is available for free via the Deaf Bible app.
(Graphic courtesy of Deaf Bible Society)

It is the same in the Deaf world. Valverde-Hummel says Scripture engagement methods that work in the English-speaking community are not effective for people who use American Sign Language (ASL). Learn why ASL and English are different languages.

“It does not matter if we know how to read and write. The point is that [English] is not our native language, that’s why we need it! (sign language Scripture)”

The good news is ASL has the most translated Scripture of any sign language used worldwide. No sign language has a complete Bible, but there is a complete New Testament in ASL. Watch some passages here.

Again, Valverde-Hummel reiterates, Deaf people can engage with God’s Word in English to a certain extent. However, a barrier still exists because English is a second language for American Deaf. Teaching Deaf how to engage with sign language Scripture removes that obstacle, she explains.

“It says, ‘you know what, let’s go before God directly and see what He’s saying to you’.”

Sign language Scripture engagement: how?

The Scripture engagement program is still in development, Valverde-Hummel says, but the training has two primary aspects.  She describes Part One as “New Mindset.” It’s about making Deaf and hearing Christians aware of the need, and introducing them to the sign language Scriptures available through Deaf Bible’s digital platform.

(Graphic courtesy of Deaf Bible Society)

Part Two, Valverde-Hummel continues, is “New Concept.” In this phase, she and other members of Deaf Bible’s team teach Deaf believers how to use sign language Scripture in sermons, Bible studies, etc. They also encourage Deaf Christians to find a method that resonates most with each individual.

For example, team members ask Deaf believers, “Take this video – let’s say, Joel 3:15 – what can you do with it in sign language? You could post it on Facebook and create a devo[tional]. You could share it with somebody through a text.”

Even if you’re not Deaf and you don’t know sign language, there’s a place for you in this story. “Definitely yes, you guys can be involved!” Valverde-Hummel says. “Hearing people are very welcome.

“We need to really think of each other as allies, partners in this work, because the Word of God is not limited to certain groups of people.”

Learn how to partner with Deaf Bible Society.



Header image courtesy of Deaf Harbor, a Bible translation group which partners with Deaf Bible Society and DOOR International.

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