Gospel translation for Thai Sign Language

Thailand (MNN) — Teamwork is essential to completing the Great Commission. This is obvious in the joint work mission groups are doing to reach the Deaf communities around the globe. The truth is, when you look at the history of the Church making the Gospel accessible, this group has been extremely neglected. Fortunately, more mission groups are working to change that.

Pastraporn Sarakong is a leader in the Thai translation team. (Photo courtesy of Wycliffe USA)

Wycliffe Bible Translators USA has been involved in sign language Bible translations projects for about two decades now. Wycliffe’s Andy Keener says, as more sign language projects are taken up within Bible translation, they’ve witnessed a joy akin to that in the early Church as the Gospel was spread.

He says, “Many have never thought about Bible translation. They’ve seen the Bible as a book that is for hearing people, and not for them. And so, these initial engagements have begun to generate a lot of excitement and enthusiasm in communities around the world.”
Getting the work done together
(Photo courtesy of Wycliffe USA)

Wycliffe USA primarily plays a support and partnership role in the translation process as they provide funding and workers. In this work, they help to identify people who are good story tellers in their sign language and coach them in interacting with the Scriptures. The end goal is to video record the Bible passages so they can be distributed.

Keener says they work with many partners — notably DOOR International and Deaf Bible Society. Wycliffe partners with deaf-led regional organizations as well.

“We’re very much interested in partnering with organizations that are working both in their own communities at regional levels, and then some of these international organizations that really focus globally on seeing sign language Bible translation available for all.”
The Thai Church
Right now, Wycliffe is involved in about ten translation projects, including one in Thailand. Keener explains that the Thai Sign Language translation project is less than a decade old. The team working on it right now consists of a few different groups who are translating the Bible chronologically.

Keener explains why: “We found that this is a really key way of engaging the Deaf because in sign language, doing things in a storying fashion chronologically is really powerful and Deaf people have found it a very appropriate way culturally to understand Scripture and to understand the message of Salvation.”

The storying format means Scripture is cut into full stories, much like we might see in a Bible story book.

“When we do that, within sign language, we’re able to have someone in the signing take that entire story and craft that together, having every segment of what is in the Scripture part of that story, but done in a visual way.”
As we’ve shared in the past with translation stories, hearing the Gospel in your heart language is so different than having to learn it through a secondary language. It’s the same for the Deaf community. Their heart language is a sign language, and even if they can read, it’s still like learning through a second language.

“They can interact with Scripture some,” Keener says, “but when they get it in their heart language, it really impacts them at a deeper level.”

So as Scripture is translated into Thai Sign Language, more and more in this community are able to hear the Gospel and respond.

“Many people are for the first time realizing, there’s a message here that’s for them and not just for hearing people. They’ve seen that as a huge gulf — less than 0.1 percent of the Deaf community in Thailand are known or expected to be believers at this point,” Keener says.

So as they continue in this work, there are a few things we can do. First and most importantly, we can pray. Ask God to raise up spiritual leaders in all of the Deaf communities around the world, even those that have no witness at this time. Ask Him to give courage, safety, and the power of the Holy Spirit to translation teams who are crossing borders to share the Good News with other Deaf communities.

And this is our motivation for prayer: “Every country in the world has Deaf people. And in each of those places there are Deaf people who the way that they communicate is through sign language. [There’s] not a single sign language in the world today that has a complete Bible. In most sign languages in the world today, there’s not even a single verse that is available in that language.”

Secondly, you can give. Click here to learn more about financial gifts to the sign language translation work.

And finally, consider going. Keener says to watch their website for opportunities to serve overseas.