One Deaf man’s journey from language deprivation to Gospel saturation

Colombia (MNN) — We shared recently about Deaf Bible Society’s new partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators to advance sign language Bible translations. Deaf Bible’s President JR Bucklew says one of the translation projects they’re collaborating on is in Colombian Sign Language.

(Map courtesy of VOM Canada)

“The Colombian project has been around for a number of years [and] has really become a flagship project in the world as far as having a strong team,” Bucklew shares. “Our desire is to support indigenous projects. We have no intentions of coming in to run a project. We want to see local leaders equipped and empowered to do Bible translation and Scripture engagement among their own people. We want it to be locally sustainable and reproducible.”

Each Deaf people group has their own culture and social norms and experiences. And in certain countries, including some Colombian communities, deafness is viewed as an embarrassment to the family, a curse, or even demon-possession. Because of this, Deaf children in these types of communities are often isolated. And sometimes their parents aren’t even aware that sign language is a viable language option or that it even exists, so these Deaf children are also language deprived.

The Deaf Bible field coordinator and staff members were able to travel to Colombia to connect with the translation team there. During their visit, they met some of the local Deaf believers and visited a small community in the mountains outside Bogota.

There, they met a skilled woodworker named Jose, a Deaf Christian with a powerful testimony.

Bucklew shares, “Jose, until he was in his 20s, never signed. He never really could read or write, so [he had] a huge experience of what we call language deprivation. So you can imagine, you have no language, there’s no communication. You get up in the morning [and] you sort of do what you do. In his case, he just learned to do woodwork and worked with his father, but that’s it.

“So Jose one day met another Deaf man as he was moving through town and was really sort of intrigued at what the other Deaf man was doing, which of course was signing.”

At first, Jose didn’t know that signing was actually a language but a few years later, Jose learned Colombian Sign Language. Then not long after that, he met a Deaf evangelist who shared the Gospel with him.

“Jose, of course, is telling us this and he’s starting to weep as he says, ‘I didn’t know how to talk to anyone. I learned what my language was, I was given my heart language, and because of that I came to know who this precious Jesus is.’ He became a believer, he became active in his community, a wonderful man of God.”

(Photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society)

Jose’s story goes to show just how much Deaf individuals value the gift of communication and language, and the desperate need that still exists for God’s Word in every sign language.

“This amazing idea that God chose in the creation of the world to speak and to say something into being is incredible. The idea that with Jesus on the cross, in spite of their intentions when they nailed above him ‘King of the Jews’ in three different languages, that this Gospel proclaimed in multiple languages happened right away. This King was proclaimed to be King in multiple languages.”

Around 70 million Deaf people in the world today have portions of Scripture available in their sign language. But another 50 million Deaf don’t have any Scripture available at all and no access to the truth of God’s Word. And as Bucklew says, “It’s very easy to be lied to when you have no access to the truth. And that should cause us to fall to our knees.

“Think about this. There are more versions, revisions, and so forth of the Bible in English than there are sign languages that exist — and there are around 400 different sign languages in the world…. And yet today, still, there is not a complete Bible in any one sign language.”

That’s why this new partnership with Deaf Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators is so critical for the acceleration of the Great Commission. They are now able to empower Deaf people to translate the Bible into their own sign language and hopefully make complete sign language Bibles available for the first time.

“That will then result in pastors and evangelists being equipped with God’s Word so we can continue to see more lives like Jose’s changed in making His name great among this Deaf people group in Colombia and of course the rest of the world.”

The Colombian translation team is currently working with Deaf Bible to finalize next phase of the translation project. “Please be in prayer for the project as they continue to bring on signers and bring on the correct people they need on this translation team,” asks Bucklew.

“Then also be in prayer for the funds. You know, we mention this every time we get to talk with you, but it really is a huge need. Resources are a huge need for sign language Bible translation. Keeping the lights on in a normal translation project is one thing, but when you have to use a video camera, keeping the lights on is really important. So we need prayer, we need resources, the Colombian team desperately needs these so they can continue to impact lives.”

If you’d like to support Deaf Bible Society in this Great Commission work, click here to give!