God’s Word for Seven Deaf Communities


I was in a Nairobi, Kenya for just a few days to help gather photographs of the celebration of the completion of several portions of scripture for seven Deaf communities in Africa:

  • 110 Bible stories on DVD for sign languages in Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania
  • An initial 32 Bible stories on DVD for Nigerian Sign Language.
  • The completion of a video Biblical commentary (called The Deeps) for Kenyan Sign Language.

140920_6839 After participants from each translation team lifted the colored fabric that covered the DVDs they had so faithfully worked on, they shouted for joy and danced in the front of the room waving their DVDs above them.  It was exciting to share the moment with them.

It is estimated that as many as 400 Deaf communities around the world, each of whom use a different sign language, have never experienced God’s Word because it is not in a form they can understand.  DVD translations of scripture on one of the ways that many Deaf communities are access scripture for the first time.

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Tokyo Deaf Church


On Sunday I visited the Tokyo Deaf Church.  Pastor Minamida is one of the other Deaf pastors in Japan involved in the Japanese Sign Language Video Bible translation.   Pastor Minamida’s love of scriptures came through even before he began to preach.  In his opening prayer he said, “Pray that we will understand the Word deeply, today.”

He also encouraged the congregation to review the new scripture DVDs that were coming out.

“Looking at the Bible is important,” he said.  “Do you have a copy of [the] Colossians [DVD]? It’s easy to understand, and a great way to share about Jesus with your non-Christian friends.”

During the church service Pastor Minamida would show a portion of scripture using the JSL Bible DVDs, and then explain the passage to the congregation.  His sermon was from Ecclesiastes 3.  What was interesting on the video was that it had three different signers.  I learned that having multiple signers is one way that poetry is communicated in sign languages — fascinating!


I enjoyed watching signed singing during the service. You may wonder how exactly that works.  In Deaf churches congregational songs are signed together in unison by following a person up front who is leading.  Sometimes a drumbeat helps everyone stay in tuned together.  Other times everyone stays synchronized just by watching.


It’s beautiful to watch, and a common element of most Deaf church services.

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“It’s my own language!”


This is Miya.  She was showing us the sign for “Christian.” Behind her are some photos of the church congregation taken during the last ten years.


Miya is the pastor of a Deaf church in Toyooka, and she’s been involved in the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation program as an advisor.  The JSL Bible translation is being worked on by an organization called ViBi.  Bit by bit, more and more scripture are being made available to the Deaf community in Japan via DVD.


Miya is an amazing resource because she is fluent in several sign languages (including both Japanese and American Sign) as well as spoken and written Japanese and English.  She uses her gifts in languages not only in her consulting for the sign Bible, but also to teach hearing people in Japan how to sign in Japanese Sign.


Even though Miya is gifted in many languages, she still is glad to have more and more of the Bible available in Japanese Sign Language.

She shares, “It is my own language! It was the first language I learned.  I can understand it clearly. When I was little we didn’t have a JSL bible, but my dad was such a good story teller in JSL.  He told me all of the Bible stories.   Now I want the JSL Bible for others.”


We also met Shunko, one of the women from Miya’s congregation. She has been a believer for the last 20 years. She came to know Jesus after attending a Deaf church with a friend.   Shunko shared with us that even though she can read Japanese a little bit, seeing the Bible in JSL is better.

“It is hard to understand Japanese words so I check things on the [JSL Bible] DVDs to see what it really means,” says Shunko.  “Otherwise I have to ask someone, like my pastor. “

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God’s Word for the Deaf in Hong Kong


We’re attending a meeting this evening to get to know some of the people who are involved in beginning a Bible translation for Hong Kong Sign Language.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are many different sign languages around the world.  It is currently estimated that there may be 400 or more sign languages around the world.  Sign languages are distinct from the spoken languages in an area with their own grammar and vocabulary.

The relationship between sign languages is also not necessary connected to the relationship between spoken languages.  For example, while hearing people in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan speak Chinese languages, Hong Kong Sign Language is related to a couple of the Sign Languages used in China, but it is distinct from Taiwanese Sign Langauge which is related to Japanese Sign Language.


The photo above shows how to sign the Lord’s Prayer in Hong Kong Sign Language. The Pastor of the Hong Kong Deaf People Christian Church created it to help his congregation learn the Lord’s Prayer.  Because sign languages are not universal, each sign language has it’s own way of signing this prayer and articulating the content of the Bible.


The group, tonight, was discussing how to sign key terms.

They were viewing short video clips showing someone signing different key terms, and then everyone was discussing them.  In my video (above) you may hear a couple of people speaking Cantonese.  It is not the Deaf who are speaking, but the two hearing people who work among Deaf in Hong Kong who were participating in the meetings.

For some concepts they were also discussing if new signs needed to be created and taught or if current signs could adequately translate the meanings of biblical terms.

331B3951     331B3952

One term under discussion was emmanuelGod with us.  Two options for signs (see above) were discussed at length.  The one on the right some felt looked more like God was sitting among us because having your pinky finger out indicates sitting. Whereas the sign on the left, with your fingers clenched together, others felt more adequately translated to the concept of God with us in Hong Kong Sign Language.

This project is just beginning, so it will be interesting to see how it develops in the next few years.  From what I saw it looks like this Bible translation will be done on video as many other sign language translation have been done.  They are receiving assistance from ViBi, an organization which is involved in Bible translation in Japan.  I’ll be visiting them when I leave Hong Kong.

Discussion about key terms is a process that takes place throughout every Bible translation whether for a spoken or signed language.  The discussion usually begins before any translation has taken place and continues throughout the translation process. After a translation is complete sometimes new key terms are discovered or the language changes so that new key terms are needed that more fully capture the meaning of biblical concepts.  At this point a revision is needed.

Finding adequate ways to articulate biblical concepts is something even Jesus does in the New Testament when describing the Shema to two teachers of the law – look here to read about Bible translation in the Bible.

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Hola desde El Salvador


I’m in El Salvador this week for our annual international communications meetings. El Salvador (the Republic of the Savior) is a small country south of Mexico and Guatemala.  We’re in the Capital, San Salvador.  It is positioned on a high plateau, so the temperature outside is just about perfect. The church in this country, like in many other countries around the world, is sending workers to other places in the world to work in Bible translation.

This week we’re leading a communications workshop for communications staff in the Americas, we’re spending time learning about the context of Bible translation work in the Americas, and in the later part of the week, we’ll be discussing international communications strategies and issues.


For the most part, Bible translation work in El Salvador is complete.  Of the six documented languages in El Salvador, three are nearly extinct or extinct, two have Scriptures and one has translation work in progress– Salvadorian Sign Language. That translation team provided our devotions this morning.  It included a dramatic presentation on a Scripture passage as well as an overview of their translation project.  Learn more about sign language translations.

My travels in Africa have typically taken me to countries where English or French were the languages of wider-communication. It’s been nice being in a Spanish-speaking country again.  I can practice the little bit of Spanish I remember from high school–“Hablo un poquito espanol.”

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