Passing the mantle of Christian digital programming for the Deaf

USA (MNN) — Television streaming and program streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu are only growing in popularity. It’s even been helpful for the Church to use online streaming to share church services, Christian movies, and online devotionals. But what about the Deaf community?

Deaf Bible Society’s President JR Bucklew explains, “For those of us in the hearing community, there are supporting resources that we use to help us further engage in Scripture. Sometimes those supporting resources — like Christian television programming, film, live-streaming of Christian events, those type of things — are also tools that we use to engage our neighbor, to really draw them into…being able to engage with Scripture.”

For the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, closed captioning helps. But if sign language is a Deaf person’s first language, closed captioning translates as a secondary language for them — not their ‘heart language’.

(Image grab courtesy of DVC Christian Television Network)

Thankfully, there has been a place where the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing can go to find Christian programming. DVC Christian Television Network has provided Christian programming 24/7 online for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing in American Sign Language for several decades.

Now, this vital outreach will continue as DVC is passing the torch to Deaf Bible Society.

Bucklew says, “Several years ago when we decided to look at something like this, we knew about DVC and we knew about their work, so we really initially approached this as a potential partnership. Since then, it has just grown to Deaf Bible Society now looking at acquiring the network and building it into something that is more conducive for this century to engage Deaf viewers across multiple digital platforms.”

Deaf Bible Society already offers the Deaf Bible app and Deaf.Bible online, along with making Jesus Films available that have been dubbed into sign languages. But they want to expand the types of Christian programming they can make available to Deaf believers.

“With today’s technology, there’s really no need to do actual television broadcasting. When you look at the rise of Netflix and Hulu and streaming platforms, this is it. This is a way we can engage thousands of Deaf people in the US.

“We hope to provide a service that will be accessible through mobile app stores, through online, through platforms like Apple TV, Samsung, all of the above where Deaf viewers or hearing people who sign can go on and they can get on-demand access to children’s programming in sign language, Bible study series, teachings from different Deaf churches. They can go on and see there are a few short films that have been created in American Sign Language that have a Christian theme.”

DVC has been pioneering this unique area of ministry since 1983. It’s founders, David and Ruby Stecca, started with a specific call from the Lord to reach the Deaf.

“David was a police officer in the Chicago area and he was listening to Moody Radio. Many of us know about Moody Radio and know of the impact it’s had in many lives. His question was, ‘Well, if I’m able to absorb the Word and be impacted and be engaged like this as I’m driving down the street, what do Deaf people have? What do they use?’ At that time, I mean, there was really nothing out there. This was cutting edge technology to have the vision of creating a 24/7 streaming service online [with] Christian television programming for the Deaf,” explains Bucklew.

“Then the biggest problem was they didn’t have content, much like we experience with Bible translation. We want to engage Deaf people with the Bible, but we don’t have Bibles to engage them with, and that’s why we (Deaf Bible Society) backed into supporting sign language Bible translation work.”

But lack of Christian Deaf program materials didn’t stop the Stecca’s or DVC. They started to produce Christian programming content in American Sign Language for the Deaf. Hundreds of video program resources have been generated, with thousands of viewers.

(Photo courtesy of Deaf Bible Society)

Now, Bucklew says the ministry acquisition of DVC is a blessing, and they truly share a vision to see this digital outreach to the Deaf continue.

“David and Ruby in this process, it’s sort of like they’re passing on the mantle, but this has been their lives. They’ve invested their lives in this work. So it’s been a very emotional process for all of us involved, but full of hope as we look to the future of creating a state-of-the-art streaming platform for Christian-related programming for sign language communities, starting with the American Sign Language community.”

It will take a couple of years for Deaf Bible to transfer over all the necessary digital assets. As they press forward in this project, please be in prayer for them.

Bucklew says, “We thank God for DVC, and David and Ruby Stecca. We really thank DVC for all the hard work they’ve done, where a couple years ago, their fear was that they would just have to sunset the ministry. Now we’re really able to carry on their legacy and engage millions of lives.

“So just be praying for the process. Be praying that also the Lord would provide ongoing resources so we can keep something like this alive, so we can continue to expand on it…. Really be praying for our staff during this transition, pray for the staff at DVC, [and] for David and Ruby as they begin to work with us in building out this new platform.”