International (MNN) — There are thousands of languages left yet to receive a translation of the Bible in countries like Central African Republic, Mozambique, Timor and Peru. But even reaching those people groups with an audio or written version of the Bible could still be leaving out one significant chunk of people.
There is one major unreached people group often forgotten that lives scattered across the earth: the deaf. There are about 400 different Sign Languages in the world that need the Bible. Estimates of the number of deaf people those languages represent range from 30 to 80 million.
Wycliffe Bible Translators has been working for the last several decades to create translations for this special sector of society, but they have only been able to do so much. With a new partnership in hand, however, Wycliffe's work in this area is about to accelerate.
"Wycliffe wants to get God's Word to God's world. And the deaf are part of God's world," explains Wycliffe's Jim Dowsett. "They have not had ready access to the Scriptures in the past. So now, Wycliffe is more pointedly–with a greater focus–attempting to get the Scriptures to the deaf."
Dowsett will be the first Wycliffe USA worker assigned to work with new Wycliffe partner, DOOR: Deaf Opportunity Outreach International. In October, Dowsett will start working full time as a consultant for DOOR, assigned from Wycliffe. He is currently providing consultant help to teams in Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and India.
Dowsett's consultant position is crucial for accuracy more than anything in deaf Bible translation projects. Dowsett says since many deaf don't have high literacy skills, it's even more difficult for deaf translators to grasp the original Greek and Hebrew meanings of the Biblical texts.
"Sign languages are the heart languages of deaf peoples–not a written form," explains Dowsett. "Even an easy-to-read version of a written language is often inaccessible to deaf."
This is, of course, why deaf translations are so vital. When translations are complete, they will be on DVDs for the deaf to watch. Since not everyone has access to DVD technology all the time, though, storyboards will also be created.
"[A storyboard] takes the main concepts of each section of Scripture and renders it into a picture form to aid the memory when you don't have the technology available to view the DVD," notes Dowsett. This will be most useful in several developing nations.
By 2013, Wycliffe hopes to add another four to six countries to its list of nations in which deaf Bible translation will be taking place, so that as many as possible can be reached with God's Word.
As Wycliffe begins this new partnership, you can get involved by visiting the DOOR Web site, but mostly through prayer.
Dowsett suggests, "Pray and ask for understanding and an awareness of the situation. As hearing people, it is very easy for us not to notice deaf people."