USA (MNN) — Two weeks ago, over 30 thousand deaf people gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Deaf Nation World Expo. It’s basically a unique time for deaf individuals to meet with hundreds deaf business vendors, get sign language resources, and make friends.
JR Bucklew went with the Deaf Bible Society as an exhibitor. He explains, “What’s really exciting about it is it’s an expo where, as a deaf person, you can go and talk to anyone there!… Deaf Bible Society uses the Deaf Nation expos as an opportunity to promote the Deaf Bible app and the deaf.bible website. Those are engagement platforms that we use in partnership with sign language Bible translators to distribute sign language Bible content and engage people.”
Deaf Nation company holds these expos in cities all over the United States. Average attendance at these expos is around 3,000 people with up to 300 vendors. For the expo in Las Vegas, even three weeks before the event, there were already 30 thousand people registered to attend.
Reaching a Concentrated, Unreached Audience with Jesus Christ
Bucklew says, “[It is] a tremendous opportunity to have the unreached people group you’re trying to reach with the Gospel in one location from all over the world, and that’s what we did! We were there with them all week.”
The chance to interact with the deaf community and present the Gospel is imperative, especially since Bucklew says many churches don’t know what the needs of deaf people are or how to reach them.
“We find many deaf people will approach us who have had really bad experiences with ‘church’ in general. They’ve been to churches where there was an interpreted service or they had a bad experience with a hearing church. Really there was just cultural conflict — the hearing world not understanding deaf culture, and the deaf person not really understanding how a hearing church operates. So that just leaves them with a bad taste in their mouth for church, for religion, for God, and the Bible.
“We get really excited because we’re able to share with deaf people who’ve been through these experiences, and they’re able to access the Bible in their language, they’re able to get deeper understanding of the Word of God, and they’re able to do that while talking to another deaf person on our staff or a hearing person who’s fluent in sign language.”
How the Church Can Join Deaf Ministry
So what does the Church at-large today need to understand about the deaf community and how to best minister to and with them? Bucklew has a few thoughts:
“We seem to have a lot of discussion going on in our country today about minorities, whether that be racial or that be through some other means. And the idea that we need to really grasp is the deaf community, as a whole, are really an indigenous people group apart from hearing Americans. So the deaf in the US, though they’re Americans and they grew up in an English-speaking environment, didn’t necessarily develop an English-speaking vocabulary, which is a completely different language with a completely different language structure. They have their own culture, cultural rules, social rules.”
Bucklew suggests we ought to ask ourselves the question, “What does the deaf community need in order to have a thriving deaf church where they’re reaching other deaf people, they’re discipling other deaf people?… It really takes an open mind because it’s going to take a different strategy than what we’ve approached in history. Providing an interpreter in a hearing church service is not the end-all. All we’ve done there is provided access to the sermon.
“But real ministry is that discipleship in the Scripture, that growing in the Word. Deaf people are not exempt from the same callings as Scripture’s hearing people; to be teachers and evangelists and missionaries and worship leaders. It just looks very different in a deaf context.
“We have to be ready to say, ‘Okay, Lord, what would you have us do?’ And then seek out ministries like the Deaf Bible Society and others so you can better educate yourself on what that looks like.”
Deaf Bible Translations…Beyond the US
At the Deaf Nation World Expo, there weren’t just people from the United States. Individuals came from countries all over the world. Deaf Bible Society has 20 sign language translations of the Bible available, and they used them as an outreach tool to those from outside the United States as well.
“Last week, we met with many deaf people even from other countries, and as they came by, their immediate expectation was that we only had American sign language. But then as we were able to show them the Bible, [for example,] in Colombian sign language and to see the overwhelming joy just take over their face and say, ‘You have my language? You have something for me?’… We were trying to get people to our booth, but then in this case many of them just stayed and hung around, because they wanted to watch and they wanted to see what else [the Bible] had to say in their language!”
While the Deaf Bible Society has several sign language Bible translations completed, there are still around 200 deaf people groups without a complete Bible. Bucklew asks for your prayers.
“The biggest prayer is for what was the saddest part of the expo — the hundreds of deaf people who came up, and we didn’t have a deaf Bible in their sign language. That’s heartbreaking because that means there are thousands, if not millions, of deaf people in the world today who don’t have access to the Bible in their sign language.
“So be praying that we find the right people, that we’re able to develop the projects well, and that we’re able to get the funding needed in order to see these projects become successful so we can truly provide a Bible in every sign language for every deaf person.”
The Deaf Bible Society’s goal is to have five to ten new Bible sign language translations started by the end of this year. You can learn more about their projects and how you can partner with them here!
Bucklew says, “That’s really exciting for us to see lives changed by the Word of God. And not just the Word of God, but the Word of God in someone’s heart sign language, and in a platform which they can freely and easily access.”