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Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada • Summer 2009

Let New
Director
Named

JAARS
Receives
First Kodiak
Aircraft
& Eyes Listen Missio Dei in
Wycliffe aids Bible translation the Midst of
into sign languages for the Deaf. Uncertainty
Foreword
Summer 2009 • Volume 27 • Number 2
Word Alive, which takes its name from Hebrews 4:12a, is the official
publication of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Its mission is to
inform, inspire and involve the Christian public as partners in the
worldwide Bible translation movement. Give Me a Sign (Name)
Editor: Dwayne Janke Dwayne Janke
Designer: Laird Salkeld

P
Senior Staff Writer: Doug Lockhart
Staff Writers: Janet Seever, Deborah Crough
hotographer Alan Hood and I were with 15 African sign
Staff Photographer: Alan Hood
language Bible translators for only a few days when they
Director of Communications: Dave Crough
began brainstorming about us. They insisted that we have
Word Alive is published four times annually by Wycliffe Bible sign names—standard cultural practice for anyone who
Translators of Canada, 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Copyright
2009 by Wycliffe Bible Translators of Canada. Permission to reprint visits or joins a group of Deaf*.
articles and other magazine contents may be obtained by written Our Wycliffe colleague Harry Harms had finger-spelled our
request to the editor. A donation of $12 annually is suggested to cover names D-w-a-y-n-e and A-l-a-n for the translators, who were
the cost of printing and mailing the magazine. (Donate online or use
being trained at the Deaf Opportunity OutReach (DOOR) centre
the reply form in this issue.) Printed in Canada by McCallum Printing
Group, Edmonton. in Nairobi, Kenya. But that couldn’t replace a real sign name; one
Member: The Canadian Church Press, Evangelical Press Association. based on some important or distinct physical or non-physical
For additional copies: media_resources@wycliffe.ca
characteristic of ours. I had fears these young, fun-loving Africans
To contact the editor: editor_wam@wycliffe.ca
would want to represent my larger-than-average nose or my bald-
ing head. Who would want to get labelled with those names?
For address updates: circulation@wycliffe.ca
Fortunately, through consensus, they decided on representing
Note to readers: References to “SIL” are occasionally made in
Word Alive. SIL is a key partner organization, dedicated to training, something less embarrassing: my glasses and beard, a distinct com-
language development and research, translation and literacy. bination among this group. To introduce myself to other Deaf from
now on, I make a fist just in front and to the side of my eye, with
the heel of my hand pointing ahead and my thumb and index finger
outstretched above and below my eye. That’s the “glasses” part. Then
I open that same hand and rub my fingers down the side of my face.
That’s the “beard” part. My sign name is literally “Glasses-Beard.”
Wycliffe Canada Vision Statement: A world where translated
I felt more accepted by the Deaf having this sign name and they
Scriptures lead to transformed lives among people of all languages.
were always excited to see me use it, which I did for the rest of our
Translating Scripture, Transforming Lives
trip this past September. Still, it was difficult to really enter the Deaf
Together with partners worldwide, we serve indigenous people through
language-related ministries, especially Bible translation and literacy. Our world beyond a superficial level without
goal is to empower local communities to express God’s love in Word knowing the sign languages they speak to
and deed—for personal, social and spiritual transformation. Wycliffe Without knowing the sign share their deepest thoughts and emotions.
personnel currently serve globally in nearly 1,500 language projects for
languages that the Deaf A huge communication barrier divides us.
more than a half billion people. However, about 2,400 minority groups
still wait for the power of God working through their own languages. Similarly, it is very difficult for God’s
Wycliffe invites you to participate in this effort through prayer, service use to share their deepest truth in His Word to enter and impact the
and funding. lives of the Deaf, unless it comes in their
Canadian Head Office: 4316 10 St NE, Calgary, AB T2E 6K3. Phone: thoughts and emotions, heart languages—sign languages. For this
(403) 250-5411 or toll free 1-800-463-1143, 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
a huge communication reason, Wycliffe workers are on the cusp of
mountain time. Fax: (403) 250-2623. Email: info@wycliffe.ca
an accelerating effort to translate Scriptures
Cover: Estrella Camacho, Catalonian Sign Language Bible translator,
leads worship at a Deaf church service near Barcelona, Spain (see story,
barrier divides us. into the 200-400 estimated sign languages
pg. 24). Photograph by Alan Hood.
used by Deaf people worldwide.
In this issue of Word Alive, we take you
to Africa and Spain to see this cutting-edge translation work in
action. We also have stories about related efforts to: 1) develop
software to aid in sign language animation, 2) offer sign language
In Others’ Words translation training, and 3) determine the translation need in Asia
“. . . The Scriptures obtain full (by a Canadian).
authority among believers only I have no doubt that God wants many more names of Deaf peo-
ple in His Book of Life, just as He does hearing folks. And maybe
when men regard them as having
there will even be an extra column of information in that book . . .
sprung from heaven, as if there the
titled “Sign Name.”
living words of God were heard.”
—John Calvin (1509-1564), * To emphasize that Deaf cultures are distinct from hearing cultures, people often write “Deaf”
when referring to a linguistic-cultural group, and “deaf” for the audiological condition of
French theologian and reformer, people. This approach is used in this magazine.
in Institutes of the Christian Religion
6
Contents

Features
Articles By Dwayne Janke • Photographs by Alan Hood

6 It’s a Time of the Signs Led by a Kenyan farmer


and aided by Wycliffe expertise, DOOR International
mobilizes Deaf sign language Bible translators in Africa.

18 Vital Signs Diagnosis: Many of the world’s Deaf are in


spiritual ill health. Part of the prescription: translate God’s

18
Word into sign languages.

24 Signs Along the Way As God leads, Wycliffe’s Steve


and Dianne Parkhurst are juggling not one, but two, sign
language projects in Spain.

Departments
2 Foreword Give Me a Sign (Name).

4 Watchword W
 ycliffe Canada Board
Names New Director.

34 Beyond Words Ring of the Lord’s.


Photograph by Alan Hood

35 Last Word M
 issio Dei in the Midst of Uncertainty.
By Kirk Franklin

24 Corrections: For various reasons, several mistakes were made in the Spring 2009 issue
of Word Alive. Danny Foster actually coordinates training for translation projects in the
Uganda-Tanzania Branch of SIL International. In the page 6/7 photo, he is driving through
Lamadi, not Musoma. In photos on page 3 (top) and page 12, Foster is visiting Mikumi
National Park. Word Alive regrets the errors.

Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 3


Watchword

Wycliffe Canada
Board Names
W
ycliffe Canada is in a period of
transition, as current Executive
Director Dave Ohlson finishes his
Wycliffe,
Tyndale
W ycliffe Canada has reached an agree-
ment with Tyndale University College to
establish a linguistics program on its campus in
New Director service in November 2009. Establish Toronto. The agreement, signed in mid-February,
To provide leadership upon comple- enables Wycliffe candidates to complete many of
tion of Ohlson’s term, the Wycliffe Canada Linguistics their pre-field training requirements at Tyndale.
board of directors recently decided unanimously Program Wycliffe Canada Executive Director Dave
to appoint Don Hekman (left) as interim execu- Ohlson (below, right) sees the opportunity of
tive director. Don and his wife Martha have working with Tyndale as a positive step, especially since the pro-
been members of Wycliffe internationally for 37 gram will be offered in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with its
years and Wycliffe Canada for 21 years. highest population density in Canada.
“Don brings a rich diversity of experience and “This agreement is significant in that it is affording Christian
talent to this position,” said Hart Wiens, board students in the GTA the opportunity to take linguistics as a
chairman. part of their preparation, for potential missionary service, in a
Hekman currently serves as director of lan- Christian context close to home.
guage program services for the Americas Area of SIL, Wycliffe’s part- “The agreement can only enhance recruitment opportunities as
ner organization dedicated to training, language research, translation more students have the opportunity to explore what is happening
and literacy. The Hekmans are able to communicate in both official in the ministries of the worldwide Bible translation movement.”
languages of Canada, having lived in Québec for 15 years where they Tyndale President Brian Stiller (below, left) said the university
served in a language project with one of Canada’s First Nations. was happy partnering with Wycliffe on the new linguistics pro-
Wiens announced that Hekman will serve for two years, provid- gram, which
ing executive leadership as Wycliffe Canada tackles the major task will strength-
of updating its corporate bylaws to be in line with current realities. en both par-
“With the support of the Wycliffe family, he will seek to identify ties.
and nurture an expanding pool of leaders to ensure that Wycliffe “I think
Canada will continue to play a vital and effective role as a major Wycliffe has
partner in Vision 2025,” added Wiens. Vision 2025 is the goal of maintained
seeing Bible translation started in every language group still need- both its
ing it by the year 2025. spiritual and
intellectual
JAARS
Receives
J
AARS Inc., Wycliffe’s technical arm, has taken
delivery of its first Kodiak, a 10-seat, turbo prop
aircraft (below) capable of short take-offs and
authority,” he
said. “And I
think their
First landings using readily available jet fuel. affiliation
Just the eighth Kodiak made by Quest Aircraft with us will
Kodiak Company of Idaho (www.questaircraft.com), the accelerate
Kevin Gonsalves

Aircraft plane will be used in mountainous Papua New their mission.”


Guinea. JAARS is the first mission or humanitar-
ian organization to purchase and receive the specialty aircraft.
Kodiak planes are the key to continuing the provision of air Bible Translation Agency Formed in Bolivia

D
travel to support Bible translation efforts worldwide. A new type of irectors and leaders from 12 ministries and organizations
plane is needed because of an in Bolivia have established “Bolivians in Translation and
aging fleet of JAARS aircraft Literacy” (BETA). The new agency was formed in November in
(primarily with piston-driven the city of Sucre.
engines) and the phasing out BETA has begun planning its strategy to mobilize churches and
of aviation grade gasoline. individuals throughout their South American nation.
“. . .We looked into the Creation of the new agency reflects the commitment of BETA’s
future of aviation for a safe, organizing partners for Bible translation and Vision 2025. Vision
Don Horneman

effective solution to our pas- 2025 is a goal initiated by Wycliffe Bible Translators to see Bible
sengers’ unique transportation translation underway in every language of the world still needing
requirements,” said David Reeves, JAARS president. “The Kodiak is it, by the year 2025.
well-poised to meet the challenging needs of the translation com-
munity in remote operations.”

4 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


Literacy Helps Battle Nigerians Get Language Survey Training
Malaria in Africa

A community literacy program


is boosting the success of
F our Nigerian interns, including a Lutheran pastor and an Anglican priest,
have doubled the size of a language survey team working to clearly
determine the Bible translation need in their African country.
a public health project designed The newcomers, who supplement four expatriate Wycliffe surveyors, have received
to create a malaria-free zone in six weeks of intensive classroom training, followed by their first sociolinguistic survey
Burkina Faso, Africa. trip to investigate the Jarawa dialects spoken in Bauchi state,
The Kaan people are using says Mike Rueck, the team’s leader. Their internship will Niger Chad
mosquito nets and curtains prop- continue for three years.
Lake
erly when they are distributed “There are over 300 Nigerian languages needing assessment, Chad
(below) with educational materi- and a typical team might assess six languages in a year,” says
Benin N I G E R I A
als about malaria prevention in Rueck. “Rather than take over 50 years to assess all of those
their Kaansa language. The Kaan languages, we want to multiply Abuja
community developed the moth- our efforts by training Nigerians as language surveyors.
er tongue information with the “We want to enable the Nigerian Church to do this work.”
help of SIL, Wycliffe’s key partner Sociolinguistic survey is the activity of gathering information
organization. SIL has been work- about how languages are used in a society, vital for discovering Cameroon
ing in the area since 1987. what Scripture translation needs exist. Gulf of Guinea
Tests a year ago showed that
almost everyone who received
nets and curtains, accompanied
Translation Planning travelling to the language areas, As one area pastor put it:
identified a number of dialects. “Humanitarian aid should not
by the vernacular info, used them Across the Tundra Recommendations about the be brought to us without the

A
properly. Cases of fever reported Wycliffe team has complet- need for Bible translation have gospel. . . . It doesn’t help to
by Kaan villagers in the distribu- ed research of languages been made and now leaders give someone a new jumper in
tion zone fell by 72 per cent from spoken by people groups spread must decide how to respond. Siberia if that individual is going
three months earlier. across thousands of kilometres The team discovered the need to collapse dead drunk on the
More than 3,000 sets of nets and of tundra in Siberia. for Scriptures (even those in street in –30 C. Rather give us
curtains have been distributed so The language survey efforts, Russian) to be presented in cul- God’s Word, which helps people
far by the Association Kaan Alpha based on library research, turally appropriate ways so they to escape from alcoholism.”
and Somerled Foundation. Their extensive networking and some have a real impact on lives.
goal is to get nets into every bed-
room, and curtains on every front
door and sitting room window. Spain’s
PROEL P ROEL, the Wycliffe organization
in Spain, is offering a master’s
degree to prepare students for service
already involved in Scripture transla-
tion. A new batch of students is cur-
rently studying in this year’s program.
Offers in Bible translation. PROEL is offering the training in
Advanced This past year 10 students graduated partnership with the applied linguis-
Linguistics from the program in applied linguis- tics department of the University of
tics, translation and literacy. Six are Leon.
Training

Word Count
500 Number of languages Wycliffe founder William Cameron Townsend
thought needed Bible translation in the early 1930s.

3,000 Number of languages Wycliffe thought needed translation in the 1990s.


2,393 Nacceleration
umber of languages thought to need translation now, thanks to a rapid
of Bible translation starts since 1999.
Source: The Alphabet Makers; Wycliffe International

Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 5


Lily Suggett
Led by a Kenyan farmer and
aided by Wycliffe expertise,
It’s a DOOR International mobilizes
Time of Deaf sign language
the Bible translators
in Africa.

Articles by Dwayne Janke


Photographs by Alan Hood

ear a footpath a few steps from his small farmyard, a


smiling Paul Njatha swings a long knife at the base of
thick, man-high grass. It’s quite cloudy on this warm
Saturday morning, but the valley behind him still looks
idyllically gorgeous, teeming with green trees and crops (right).
When Paul has cut a bundle of tall grass, he scampers up the path
in flip-flops to his farmyard, located on his mother’s land. Using an
electric-powered chopper, he cuts the grass into small bits and mixes
it with commercial feed. This nourishes his three dairy cows, which
supply the milk that Paul sells to support his wife and two children.
You’d never know it by looking at this tall farmer, but for most of
the week, he is Paul the administrator/instructor in Nairobi, the bus-
tling capital of Kenya. Every weekday, Paul changes into dress pants,
shirt and shoes, catches a matatu (minibus) at the nearby village of
Kindiga and makes a 55-km southerly commute.
In Nairobi, he jumps off the matatu and strolls to the Africa
centre of Deaf Opportunity OutReach (DOOR) International. Here
Paul leads an effort to translate God’s Word into sign languages for
Africa’s Deaf, with the help of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
In doing so, Paul’s immediate focus widens tremendously—from
his 100-by-100-ft. farm to the entire African continent, home to the
millions of Deaf people unreached for the Lord, for whom he feels
a burden.
“There are areas in Africa where there are no churches at all for
the Deaf,” he says, through an interpreter. And “there are no [Deaf]
believers at all in some parts of Africa.”
Paul, 42, knows firsthand about the plight of the Deaf. He was
once without Christ—and he is deaf too.

Struggle Paul remembers the fateful day, at age eight,


when his hearing simply disappeared.
in Silence “Nothing really happened,” he says. “One day I
woke up, I was deaf—I couldn’t hear. That’s all.”
Doctors said Paul had lost his hearing and there was nothing that
could be done about it. He refused to accept this new personal real-
ity. As one of two deaf boys in a rural family of eight children, Paul
pressed on as best he could in the regular school.
“The hearing teachers explained things, but I didn’t understand.
I thought something else instead of the right meaning of things,” he
recalls. “I felt lonely. I didn’t want to show people that I was deaf.
It was hard for me. At that point, I could still speak [my tribal lan-
guages] at least, but I couldn’t hear.”
Fortunately, Paul had learned enough when he was still hear-

6 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


“The hearing
teachers
explained 
things, but 
I didn’t 
understand. . . . 
I felt lonely. 
I didn’t want 
to show people
that I was 
deaf. It was 
hard for me.”

ing—when he could sound out letters and words—to develop


crucial reading and writing skills. His determined mother also
Deaf and After being selected to attend the school,
Paul learned to be an electrician. But he
worked with him after school to help her son keep pace. That
continued until high school, where a good friend shared his
Spiritual acquired much more than a vocational skill
there. He gained fluency in Kenyan Sign
class notes and materials. Paul pored over them each night as Awakening Language (KSL)—in 1986, coincidentally
homework to stay afloat in class. the same year it was standardized and officially recognized as a
But Paul emphasizes that he was the exception. Many other language in the country. Paul also began to grasp his Deaf identity.
people who are deaf from infancy in Africa have no family sup- “The drastic change was that I felt so much better in the Deaf
port to stay in school. school because I could communicate! Once I was with the Deaf
“Remember . . . I began as a hearing person, so that helped and learned the sign language, I felt more confident: ‘This is my
me,” he says. “If you can understand the hearing way of learning, language!’ Before, I didn’t know my own language. I was afraid
then you will be okay. of being with the Deaf.”
“It depends on the parents. There’re very few parents, a small For three years after vocational school, Paul worked as an
percentage of parents,” he adds, “that help their deaf children, electrician in Nairobi for a firm run by an Indian man. Though
to allow them to grow. The parents think, ‘Oh, this child doesn’t his mother was Catholic and he had attended a Catholic church
have a future.’ So they keep him inside. . . . They have no exposure at the Deaf school, he stopped attending church while working
outside their village or their home. They don’t have any hope. in Nairobi. Then a deaf friend he met, whom he had known in
“But my mother was exceptional; she was different. She school, invited Paul to a church. An American missionary, who
encouraged us to go to school.” communicated in KSL (though not that naturally), ran the church.
Though a fearful Paul had resisted his mother’s earlier “I was so excited to see someone signing the Bible stories in
attempts to enrol him in a Deaf school, he finally agreed to sign language,” Paul recalls. “The second Sunday, he was talking
pursue this after high school. Out of 200 student applicants about the salvation message. It was in my heart language—sign
who were interviewed to attend a Deaf vocational school, the language—so I was really touched.”
23-year-old was the only one with a high school education. “I said, ‘Wow, that is new information I’m hearing.’ ”

8 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


On weekends, Paul Njatha, who is deaf, works on his small
farm in Kenya, doing chores such as chopping grass for his
dairy cows (far left). But each weekday, as director of Deaf
Opportunity OutReach (DOOR) International in Africa,
Paul furthers sign language Scripture translation efforts
in Deaf communities. Part of his role includes reviewing
drafts and giving feedback to videotaped translations by
sign language teams, as he does here at DOOR’s training
centre in Nairobi (left).

“There’s . . .
a small
percentage
of parents
that help
their deaf
children, to
allow them
to grow.”

The World’s Deaf At a Glance


Population: Uncertain. About 1 in a 1,000 Languages Used: The Deaf have rich, Religious Beliefs: An estimated 2% of Deaf
people are deaf in richer countries. In poor complete, highly visual sign languages with people have embraced the gospel globally.
countries, the figure is usually higher. One hand movements, facial expression, eye Lack of access to understandable Scriptures
authority estimates there are 20 million gaze, shoulder position, etc. Complex, with is a major barrier. Deaf people connect with
Deaf globally. a three-dimensional grammar and structure God and worship Him very differently than
Location: Found in all of the world’s nations. shared around the world. Don’t follow the
hearing people do. They prefer chronological
Most vibrant Deaf communities develop in order or thought process of surrounding
stories, dramas and songs.
major urban areas, where there are enough spoken and written languages. Bible Translation Status: Most Deaf people
Deaf to encourage this. Number of Sign Languages: Uncertain, due worldwide have no access to the Scriptures
to the lack of language survey research. 230 in any form they can understand. The entire
Identity: The Deaf are a distinct minority
sign languages are confirmed. However, there New Testament has only been translated
people group within the context of their
may be up to 400 distinct sign languages in into American Sign Language (ASL), released
home country. Have own customs, habits,
the world (an average of 2 per country). in 2005. A handful of other sign languages
thought patterns, language, common
have small portions of Scripture. Translations
experiences and values. Don’t consider Literacy: Literacy rate estimated to be less
are usually presented on DVD with video-
themselves handicapped or disabled. than 15%. Even in the U.S., the Deaf in the
taped signers. Bible translation has begun in
regular school system acquire only a Grade
Values/Lifestyle: The Deaf often identity about 50 sign languages by several different
4 English reading level. The Deaf rarely learn
more closely with other Deaf than with their organizations, including Wycliffe’s partner,
the written/spoken language of their coun-
own biological family. Highly value interac- SIL, and many individual churches. (See
try fluently. Sign language writing systems
tion with other Deaf as a means to process
have not been widely embraced by the Deaf. related map, pg. 22.)
and internalize information. Tend to gather at Sources: DOOR International (www.doorinternational.com/hearing);
Deaf schools, clubs, associations and churches. SIL International Sign Language Leadership Team.
Charles Ojok (left), a member of the Ugandan Sign Language Bible translation break from training at DOOR’s Nairobi centre. Both are deaf and use Kenyan
team, shares a fun moment with Philippe Gallant (right), DOOR’s international Sign Language as the common language of communication during sessions
technology coordinator, from the U.S. The two play a board game during a at the centre, which last several weeks at a time.

When the altar call was given on that February day in 1991,
Paul accepted Jesus, whom he heard had died for his sins, as
Saviour. “I felt so much better.”
Paul grew in his faith by attending Bible studies and memoriz-
ing Scripture, but a thought began to nag at him.
“. . . I had education. I “In my life I understood that I had education. I could read, I
could write. But many of the Deaf people don’t have that privi-
could read, I could write. lege. They are not educated and they don’t understand. How can
I help them?”
But many of the Deaf Paul felt God calling him to minister to the Deaf. So, despite his
furious mother’s objections, he quit his electrician’s job. He began
people don’t have that teaching Deaf students about the Bible in their schools, where
he ate and slept, seeing this as a provision of God since he was
privilege. They are not unsalaried. Several years later, he took a salaried position with the
American missionary at his church and continued teaching.
educated and they don’t Paul had previously heard about a Kenyan
understand. How can I A DOOR friend’s desire to start a training centre in
to Growth Kenya, for a U.S.-based organization called
help them?” DOOR International. Founded in 1983, it is
a ministry dedicated to training Deaf leaders and establishing
indigenous Deaf churches (Deaf believers’ fellowships) around
the world. One of DOOR’s Deaf Christian Leadership Training
Centres, run and led by Deaf leaders and teachers, was started in

10 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


In addition to receiving training,
African sign language teams come
to the DOOR centre to use its studio
facilities and camera/computer
equipment to videotape and edit
signed Scripture translations.

Nairobi, in a neighbourhood dotted with foreign embassies and


consulates.
DOOR’s training program teaches students to learn and
“Working with
memorize 165 chronological Bible stories in sign language, in
order to plant and lead strong, reproducing Deaf believers’ fel-
Wycliffe on 
lowships. Using this unique, highly effective, culturally appropri-
ate approach, DOOR’s goal is to train a Deaf team from every
translation, we
country in the world in one generation.
In 2002, Paul took up the
have a better 
More On The Web: To find out more about
DOOR, visit <www.doorinternational.com>.
invitation from his friend to
get training at the DOOR
understanding or 
centre in Nairobi. “That was the time that I learned how I can
teach the Deaf way, using stories,” he recalls.
a better way of
A year later, convinced of the effectiveness of DOOR’s
approach, he joined its staff and started training others.
communicating 
Eventually, DOOR’s international leadership began pushing Paul
to be Africa director, convinced of his ability and commitment.
with Deaf people.”
He finally agreed to take the post, combining administration
and teaching (his first love).

‘Walk, Walk, Walk’


For hearing visitors who have never been to vibration from its beat. singing in Kenyan sign language: “It’s a good
a Deaf church in Africa, the worship service is A song leader stands at the front, signing day to worship you, Jesus. It’s a good day to
an almost surreal experience. the words of a chorus as the congregation worship you, Jesus. Today is a good day to
A good example is Harvest Mission Deaf stands, their hands and arms signing in worship you, Jesus. Walk, walk, walk! Walk,
Church, a 25-minute stroll from the DOOR unison. walk, walk! Walk, walk, walk—in the light of
centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Between 80 and 120 Aside from the drum, there is very little God! Amen!”
Deaf attend each Sunday in a window-lined sound: just the shuffling feet of believers Everything—the church’s announcements,
chapel situated on “Dr. Cho’s African Missions swaying and dancing, some moaning from the sermon, the congregational prayer, hymns
Centre” compound. several of the Deaf worshippers, cries from by a robed choir (see photo, pg. 18), and
To keep time for the group as it sings, a young babies held by mothers, and talking a dramatized Bible story by visiting DOOR
young man beats two large sticks on a metre- from several hearing kids of Deaf parents, Bible translators—is done in Kenyan Sign
high, hide-covered African drum (left). The waiting to head to Sunday school outside. Language.
Deaf can’t hear the drum’s sound—“bum- For our benefit, DOOR staffer Mariam Nekesa And everyone who attends here regularly is
bum . . . barum-bum-bum”—but can feel the interprets an example of what the group is “hearing” and understanding just fine.
A matatu mini-bus transports the Kenyan Sign Language translation team and
several DOOR staff several hours east of Nairobi to a Deaf school (above). Once
there (right), Paul Njatha helps lead seven deaf adults through a community
comprehension test of a videotaped sign translation of “God Calls Moses:
Exodus 3:4-20.” Wycliffe’s Harry Harm (in gray shirt, behind Paul) looks on,
gratified to see that the Bible translation and consultant training he and
his wife Geri gave to DOOR is being used so effectively in this field.

“We train 
their people 
in Bible 
translation,
check the
resulting 
translation 
and train 
some of 
their people 
to be [Bible 
translation]
consultants.”

12 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


Drawing Paul is helping to implement one of
DOOR’s major global goals: to give Deaf
assignment facilitating Bible translation with the Choctaw
Indians of Mississippi and plenty of subsequent experience as
on Wycliffe people God’s Word in sign languages. Bible translation consultants. The Harms were invited by DOOR
The agency has begun an international to teach Bible translation principles to its hearing staff. Their 2006
Expertise Scripture translation program by focusing workshop in Thailand emphasized the freedom translators have
on a 110-story set of chronological Bible passages developed to adapt Scriptures so they are more natural in sign language.
in three series. First, a set of foundational stories to assist the “Before,” explains Paul, “we were following just one English
Deaf in understanding God’s story. Second, a set of stories to [Bible] version and changing that into Deaf sign language.
help Deaf become obedient followers of Christ. Third, a set of Working with Wycliffe on translation, we have a better under-
New Testament stories to teach about the Church, leadership standing or a better way of communicating with Deaf people.
and how Christians interact with other Christians and with the “They helped us to think, to process things, in a way that
world. DOOR chose the Scripture set with a Deaf worldview in made us realize you have more freedom. You have to think about
mind. The aim is to provide a basic Bible understanding that can your people—how will they understand? They helped us make
lead people to Christ and then increase their understanding to the translation of stories more
the point where they can plant churches. More On The Web: Jim Dowsett, SIL Africa clear and understandable.”
To gain the necessary Bible translation expertise, DOOR sign language coordinator, talks about Because SIL Africa is still
turned to Wycliffe and its partner, SIL. the many questions that hang over Bible building up its sign language
Enter Harry and Geri Harm, a 25-year veteran Wycliffe translation for the Deaf on the continent, team it asked Harry, SIL Asia
at <www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive>.
husband-and-wife team. Their service has included an initial Area signed languages coordina-
tor, to serve DOOR on the continent in several aspects. school, to show a video of “God Calls Moses: Exodus 3:4-20.”
“We train their people in Bible translation,” explains Harry, Paul led the team getting insightful feedback from seven Deaf
“check the resulting translation and train some of their people to who intently watched the signed Scriptures. A video camera was
be [Bible translation] consultants.” used to take notes, as it were, of the test group’s signed reaction.
Bible translation consultants are crucial to the process. They Harry was there too, mostly standing on the sidelines, observ-
review translations, checking for accuracy, clarity and natural- ing and making himself available as a resource person.
ness, looking for omissions, extraneous thoughts or possible “My role is to be as peripheral as possible,” explained Harry, at
misconceptions. the back of a schoolroom. “I’m sort of like the life insurance you
As a translation consultant in training for DOOR, Paul is a never have to use.”
beneficiary of this knowledge transfer from SIL. The two hours of testing revealed that some of the Deaf were
uncertain about several key concepts and signs. Like Bible trans-
Like Life This past August and September, Harry came
to DOOR’s Nairobi centre to work with sev-
lators working in spoken languages, the Deaf team must care-
fully consider the input for its next draft on video.
Insurance eral consultants-in-training. As well, he joined
them on trips to the African homelands of several translation ‘Good, Despite the challenges of translation, the African
teams, where they tested draft translations in their particular
sign languages among Deaf communities.
Good, teams press ahead, buoyed up by Deaf Christians’
eagerness for God’s Word in their heart language.
Also at the training centre were 15 Deaf Africans on four Good’ One of them is Patrick Chanari, who was a member
teams. They are doing Bible translation in their sign languages of the community test group Paul led.
from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. Besides getting Patrick is a young Deaf leader serving a congregation of 50
instruction, they use the centre’s facilities and equipment to Deaf. He says it is a struggle for Deaf people to come to faith
prepare storyboards, videotape signed Scripture translations and and grow as disciples.
edit them, adding supporting maps, photos and graphics. “Some are uneducated, so it is very hard for them to learn,”
On one community comprehension test trip, the Kenya Sign he explains, signing through an interpreter. “Many Deaf people
Language team drove several hours east of Nairobi to a Deaf don’t know exactly what the Bible says. It takes a long time for

Deaf Bible translators serving with DOOR in Africa, like these interacting in
a workshop classroom, are working in the distinct sign languages of Kenya,
Ethiopia, Burundi, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. They come from diverse
backgrounds, such as tailors, carpenters, evangelists, artists and the jobless.
them to get a clear understanding.” Patrick Chanari, a young Deaf
Presently, Patrick studies the Scriptures and presents what he leader serving 50 Deaf in a
Kenyan congregation, is keen
learns in his sermons in KSL. But this is limiting. to see Bible stories finished in
“It is very important for us, as the Deaf, to have lots of stories, Kenyan Sign Language. Deaf
because we are storytellers. But where can we get the stories? Christians have scant resources
for evangelism and discipleship.
People are interested in learning the [Bible] stories, but we don’t
have any resources right now.”
Having a Bible translation in sign language on DVD will
change that.
“It will be very good—good, good, good!” he says emphati-
cally. “I want to teach other Deaf, so this would help me. If I had
this, I would watch it in my home. Then I would practise from
it, go to people and sign it.”
Paul says there are a few dozen Deaf churches averaging 30-40
believers each in Kenya, with its estimated “core” Deaf popula-
tion of 222,000. The “core” Deaf are those who were born deaf,
became deaf pre-lingually, or are deaf and non-literate. They will
never read a Bible, hear a sermon, listen to a gospel recording,
tune in to a Christian radio or television station, or watch and
understand the JESUS film.
“We are storytellers. 
Unlike Patrick Charnari’s congregation, many Deaf churches
are in larger urban areas where the Deaf tend to congregate to
But where can we get 
be with their own (see sidebar, pg. 11).

the stories? People are 
Challenges Much work and many challenges still must
be tackled before the Deaf Church commu-
interested in learning the
Ahead nity grows to sizable numbers all over Africa,
equipped with sign language Scriptures.
[Bible] stories, but 
Paul says DOOR is pleased to be working with Deaf Bible
translation team members from six nations on the continent
we don’t have any 
(Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda). They
include tailors, carpenters, evangelists, artists, and the jobless, all
resources right now.”
with at least a primary school education. DOOR can pay only
small stipends to them.

DEEP Thinking
Beyond the challenges of actual translation technology coordinator). As a team they are Wycliffe’s “Translator’s Workplace.”
in sign language, there is even more foun- working on a project called the DEEP (named SIL Asia sign language coordinator, Harry
dational work that is still needed: providing after Deaf Christians’ desire to go “deep” into Harm, and Jojo Ninan (DOOR staff member
reference material for Deaf translators. God’s Word). from India, trained by SIL as a Bible transla-
Leading that effort is Stuart Thiessen (at “Hearing people have tons and tons of tion consultant), are assisting in develop-
right), a 37-year-old American husband and books as resources,” explains Stuart. “If they ment of the DEEP. They see the DEEP as an
father of two, who grew up in a Mennonite don’t understand what the Bible says, they important tool to provide the historical,
family and lost his hearing gradually—by pick up a book or commentary and read. But cultural, linguistic and descriptive details
age 18, he was completely deaf. the Deaf have nothing—no resources! needed to convey concepts to the Deaf.
His story is one of a dream delayed. “So our responsibility is to look at the “A sign language translation is part way
Ironically, Stuart (whose childhood hero was hearing resources, all the information and between a spoken language translation and
Wycliffe founder Cameron Townsend) was technologies and pictures and maps, and the a movie,” Harry explains. “There’s so many
once told by Wycliffe staff to forget about geography and history. We will convert all more details that need to be included in
his passion to do Bible translation because the resources needed for translation into sign sign language that are not included in most
he was deaf. Now he is a Bible translation language.” spoken translations.
consultant-in-training with Deaf Opportunity The planned first version of the reference “If they talk about the height of Goliath,
OutReach (DOOR International). material will be on DVD and/or the Web in they raise their hands up to a certain height.
Stuart is joined by two Deaf colleagues, American Sign Language. This will be trans- There’s more dimension [in sign language].
Mark Sorenson (DOOR staff member who has lated into Kenyan Sign Language, the working There’s less vagueness allowed, so you have to
taught DOOR’s 165 Bible story curriculum to language used at joint sessions among Deaf be fairly definite. If somebody walks down the
Deaf from 15 countries of Europe and Asia) Bible translators in Africa. The reference tools road, you indicate the distance that they walk.”
and Philippe Gallant (DOOR’s international will include such computer programs as
Feeling the rhythm of a drum to keep time, Deaf Bible translation team
members sign and dance at daily worship times during their training and
work sessions at the DOOR centre in Nairobi. They are trusting that many
more Deaf will join God’s family as His Word goes forward in sign language.

“Sometimes, it’s hard for us to find the right people and we


prefer people who don’t have any jobs so they can come and
concentrate on this,” he explains.
“I can see the excitement in their lives,” Paul adds.
The problem arises after training when they go back home,
where DOOR wants them to do Bible translation.
“Sometimes their families want them to work. So they are
stuck, because they have to earn some money to support the
family,” adds Paul. “It is Africa. African life is very hard.”
“So we As DOOR accelerates its efforts in Bible translation in Africa,
it must expand its training. The agency, with the expertise of a
are part Wycliffe Associates construction team, is building a new cen-
tre on 10 acres of grazing land it bought from a Maasai chief
of it. outside of Nairobi. Plans are to include three video studios and
eight editing stations; a semicircle-shaped classroom built espe-
We are cially for Deaf interaction; housing for staff and 45 students; and
perhaps a farm project for Nairobi’s Deaf.
proud Wycliffe personnel, partnering with DOOR in Bible transla-
tion as it spreads throughout Africa, will be frequent visitors at
and the new facility.

we are A Plan As Paul surveys the overall growth of the

happy!” Unfolding work, he sees God’s unfolding plan for


Africa’s Deaf and for DOOR.
“In all of Africa, each country needs a sign language translation.
We are helping each country in Africa to have their own Bible.”
“So we are part of it,” he says with his characteristic large
smile. “We are proud and we are happy!”
Taking stock of the situation, you can’t help but agree that
God is at work on the continent. For Africa’s Deaf, all this activ-
ity is indeed a time of the signs.

16 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


As DOOR accelerates its Bible translation efforts in Africa, it must expand its training capacity. Paul
Njatha leads signed prayer with several DOOR colleagues on the site of a future new training centre
outside Nairobi, Kenya, built with the expertise of a Wycliffe Associates construction team. As they
partner with DOOR, Wycliffe personnel will continue to be frequent visitors at the new facility.
Diagnosis: Many of the world’s Deaf are in
spiritual ill health. Part of the prescription:
translate God’s Word into sign languages.

18 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


W
hen you ask Geoffrey Hunt why
Bible translation for the world’s Deaf
is so important, he is quick to spell
out the facts.
“They’re the last people to hear anything
about anything, and that includes spiritual
things,” says Hunt, leader of the sign lan-
guage leadership team for SIL International,
Wycliffe’s partner organization. “I’ve heard
them described as the most unevangelized
group in the world.”
Sadly, he says, the gospel has been
embraced by only about two per cent of the
world’s 20 million Deaf (the total population
figure Hunt is comfortable using, though
estimates vary widely). Lack of accessible
Scriptures is a major reason for the spiritual
ill health among the Deaf.
But why can’t the Deaf just read the
Scriptures in the languages of wider com-
munication of their country: Spanish in
Spain or Swahili in Kenya, for example?
“For one thing,” says Hunt, “it’s not their
language, so they are having to use a second
language, a foreign language, really, in order
to understand it.
“Secondly, the words as they are written
usually represent sounds. They’ve never
heard these sounds. They’ve never heard
these words used in context and so it is like
learning a set of telephone numbers for each
concept. Reading is very hard for the Deaf.”
Deaf children who come through the
American school system, for example, on
average end up with a Grade 4 reading level
in English.
“Now some people make it; the brilliant
ones make it. But the gospel was never
intended for just the brilliant ones,” stresses
Hunt. “If you go to the New Testament,
Jesus was out in the countryside teaching
the ordinary people.”

Turning An Ear To The Deaf


Hunt and his wife Rosemary began their
years of service in 1971, among the Hanga
[HUNG-ah] of northern Ghana. In 1983,
after closely working with local people, the
Hanga New Testament was published—the
200th involving Wycliffe and SIL.
Before the Scriptures came, there were
no churches or Christians among the then
3,000 to 4,000 Hanga people. Today, the
situation is much different.
Hunt, currently living near the Wycliffe
U.K. main office at Horsley’s Green in
The choir at Harvest Mission Deaf Church in Nairobi, Kenya, uses Kenyan Sign Language to sing
a song for the congregation of more than 80. This vibrant church, which operates totally in sign
language, is a rarity among the world’s Deaf. The gospel has been embraced by only about two per
cent of the Deaf, and lack of Scriptures in their signed heart languages is a major reason why.
England, points to Josiah, a Hanga fetish priest who find out that it really doesn’t work,” says Hunt. These
found Jesus as Lord and Saviour in the pages of God’s kinds of integration efforts have helped create the ani-
Word in his mother tongue. Today he is a pastor, want- mosity Deaf people often feel towards domination by
ing to build a church that will hold 5,000 people. the surrounding hearing society.
“When I see what the Lord has done among the
Hanga in Ghana because they have the Scriptures . . . ,” A Bit Of History
says Hunt, his voice trailing off with emotion. Wycliffe personnel have been involved in sign language
Hunt’s personal knowledge of the Hanga situation work since the late 1980s, including early research and
“Now some [deaf] people make illustrates the potential he envi- translation in Mexico, Spain (see story, below) and then
Ugandan Sign Language.
it; the brilliant ones make it. But sions for the Word of God Colombia. Starting in the mid-’90s, a sign language
among the Deaf—if it was avail- emphasis was added to linguistic and translation train-
the gospel was never intended
able in their mother tongues, ing courses run by SIL at the University of North Dakota
for just the brilliant ones.” their sign languages. (see sidebar, below). Survey of sign languages has started
Unfortunately, the Deaf have been among the last in the Americas, Eurasia and Asia. SIL has also begun
people to be considered for Bible translation. In fact, sign language-related work in partnership with DOOR
while Wycliffe has worked among language groups, like International (see story, pg. 6), Southern Baptist’s
the Hanga, for more than seven decades, it has only International Missions Board and United Bible Societies.
more recently focused some attention on sign languages. About a year ago, a more formal sign language lead-
Many Deaf sign languages only developed within the ership team was created for Wycliffe to give clearer
past several hundred years, says Hunt, as increasing direction to a ramped-up sign language translation
groups of Deaf congregated in sufficient numbers in effort, currently involving about 50 Wycliffe person-
urban areas. “Sign languages develop where there is a nel worldwide. Included on the leadership team is a Tanzanian Sign Language.
need, and if there is no established sign language there, key representative from the Deaf community, Stuart
they will develop one to fill the vacuum.” Thiessen of DOOR International (see related story, pg.
These visual, iconic forms of communication are dis- 15). Increased Deaf perspective is crucial to the future
tinct from region to region and country to country. work, says Hunt. “As an international group, we want to
“Sign languages develop where In the late 19th century, some be able to make strategic decisions.”
there is a need, and if there is social engineers and educators
no established sign language in the Western world decided 230 And Counting
that all Deaf people should be Today, sign languages have a growing profile in Wycliffe
there, they will develop one to
taught to lip read and speak the efforts to see every language receive a Bible translation
fill the vacuum.” surrounding oral language they that needs one. But how many sign languages are there?
never heard, to integrate them into the hearing world. Officially, SIL’s Ethnologue of the world’s languages lists
“It took about a hundred years for people to really 121 sign languages. But that falls well short of what the Ghanaian Sign Language.
sign language team anticipates will be added
in future editions after more research.
A New Kind of Class “We’re expecting quite a few more,” Hunt
Each summer for 57 years, SIL has trained used in classes with or without interpretation says. “We know of
Bible translators and language workers in English. More On The Web: To see a about 230 at the
through its linguistic courses at the University “It is better if a class or meeting involving list of officially recognized sign moment and we are
of North Dakota (UND). But since 2002, a new Deaf people can be conducted entirely in languages in the Ethnologue,
expecting over 400 in
visit <www.ethnologue.com>,
kind of class has been available. sign,” he explains. “That allows everyone to total.”
click “Language Family” & then
The unique teaching is geared to those participate fully and normally.” Hunt says every
“Deaf sign language.”
wanting to translate God’s Word for the Deaf. At least 10 SIL-UND students are now serv- nation seems to have
It’s not surprising that Wycliffe member ing in sign language work on the field, with an average of two sign languages—probably a
Albert Bickford set up the courses. Now SIL- another five-10 still preparing to go. conservative number. Spanish Sign Language.
UND director, Bickford has been an enthusias- Bickford’s vision is to see the number of deaf To clarify the number of sign languages,
tic advocate, as well as an adviser, networker students grow. The curriculum also needs fur- plenty of language survey is needed. So far,
and researcher for sign language Bible trans- ther fine-tuning to meet the developing field SIL has three surveyors in the Americas,
lation within Wycliffe, since the mid-1980s. needs, he says. one in Africa and two in Asia (including a
Offering sign language-related training “I’m just happy and grateful,” Bickford adds, Canadian, see pg. 22). Another one is com-
was an obvious step in the push to provide “to have had the opportunity to see this one ing on board to do survey in the Pacific. She
God’s Word to the Deaf, says the 54-year-old part of what God is doing to bring His Word to is from Sweden, the first Deaf member in
Minnesota native. “In 2002, we had students Deaf people around the world.” Wycliffe.
from around the world who were involved Other Deaf members are in the applica-
More on the Web: For details about SIL-UND
with 10 different sign languages.” tion pipeline preparing to join the team
signed language courses, visit <www.und.
This past year, four deaf students and eight in various sign language-related roles. It is
edu/dept/linguistics/catalog.htm> & click
hearing students proficient in American Sign “Signed languages.” Catalonian sign Language
Language (ASL) attended the courses. ASL is
(northeast Spain).
One common misconception among hearing people is that the Hood took these multiple frames of people as they signed the phrase
world’s Deaf use one, universal sign language. In fact, there are likely “God’s Word is powerful!” in five sign languages. The differences from
up to 400 sign languages globally. Word Alive photographer Alan country to country, and even within countries, are quite apparent.

Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 21


Sign Language
Translation
for the Deaf
Countries where Bible or Bible story
translation, or preparatory work,
is underway for sign language.
Countries where a sign
language translation of the
New Testament is completed.
Source: Mark Penner, on behalf of the United Bible Societies
Sign Language Study Group.

challenging, however, to make a large, hearing-based organiza- people that can coordinate so the Deaf are the leaders of the proj-
tion like Wycliffe “Deaf friendly,” says Hunt. It may be best to ects but the hearing people are there to support what the Deaf want
second these workers to Deaf-run agencies, such as DOOR to see happen.”
“We know of about 230 [sign International. “We’ve got to find the right This will include providing administration and getting resources
way to empower the Deaf.” for sign language projects, such as: funding, translation materials,
languages] at the moment
Wycliffe could use 30 couples and/or indi- training and translation consultants. It is estimated that the world-
and we are expecting over viduals in a fairly short time. This includes wide effort will need at least 50 Bible translation consultants to spe-
400 in total.” hearing personnel who Hunt says must know cifically check work done in sign language.
a sign language “really fluently” and have exposure to the Deaf
as a basis to succeed on the field. 3D Solutions
“We need people in a whole range of services. We need Beyond getting personnel, there is the challenge of how to present
people who . . . are going to be able to work with Deaf groups, translated Scriptures in sign language, says Hunt. While the stages
to empower them to do their translation,” says Hunt. “We need in sign language Bible translation are generally similar to those for

‘Hope’ for Asia’s Deaf


At 74 years of age, many people would be enjoying retire- further instruction while periodically back in Canada. easy. Hope has climbed mountains to reach isolated groups of
ment. Not Hope Smith.* She is still making a contribution SIL colleagues in Asia asked Hope to do research in sev- Deaf, experienced hypothermia, and taken dozens of airplane
to Bible translation as the only Canadian serving in sign lan- eral countries. She was subsequently assigned to conduct flights in just one country to gather data. She’s also experi-
guage-related work with SIL, Wycliffe’s partner organization. language surveys for the Asia area. Hope has surveyed sign enced culture shock interacting with the Deaf.
“I have enjoyed my work, and the Lord has given me good languages in nine countries and so far one of them has a As she finishes up writing her most recent survey report,
health, so I see no need to cut back yet!” says Hope, who translation project underway. Hope is not sure what her next assignment will be. But she is
previously spent 30 years in a Scripture translation project for Survey begins by getting as many Deaf contacts as possible sure of the need for Scriptures for Asia’s Deaf communities so
a Southeast Asia language group of 15,000. from a country’s Deaf association or Deaf schools, usually they can understand God’s truth.
In the past 10 years, Hope has been doing language survey in the capital city. With help from a signer of the language, “In one country that I visited,” she says, “there were said
research for Deaf signed languages in Asia, a crucial step in Hope videotapes several Deaf individuals signing 240 items to be about one million believers, but we met only one Deaf
determining Bible translation needs. from a list. These signs from several individuals in a province believer and one other Deaf who was interested. That was an
Hope, whose dad was an interpreter, has been interested or state are compared to the signs found in other provinces or extreme case, but all over Asia, except for the Philippines, the
in sign language since she was a child. While serving in Asia states in the same country to see whether one or more sign situation is not much better. “
in 1992, Hope took American Sign Language classes “just for languages are used there.
fun.” She developed some fluency in the language through Doing sign language survey among the Deaf has not been * pseudonym used for the surname, due to sensitivity
Geoffrey Hunt, leader of the sign language leadership team for SIL
International, Wycliffe’s key partner organization, views an early example of
3D sign language animation. Animation is an important emerging technology
for presenting Bible translations in sign language for the world’s Deaf.

spoken languages—drafting, exegetical work, community test- One is the account in Exodus, when God tells Moses at the
ing, and consultant checks—the formats are different. burning bush: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf
Text in translations for spoken/written languages can eas- or mute?” (Exodus 4:11 NIV)
ily be changed on a computer screen. However, sign language “For the Deaf,” says Hunt, “it is so important for them to
translations ultimately must be done on video, explains Hunt. know that God made them, to realize that they weren’t just an
“We need people who . . . Correcting and editing such a presen- accident.”
tation is time consuming and techni- The second passage is Jesus’ healing of the Deaf man in the
are going to be able to work
cally difficult. New Testament (Mark 7:31-35). Christ took the man aside by
with Deaf groups, to empower
In addition, some videotaped sign- himself, a unique approach among all of Christ’s miracles per-
them to do their translation.” ers who present translated Scriptures
“For the Deaf, it is so important formed on people.
may not be accepted by all Christian Deaf groups (Protestant vs. “One—Jesus had time for the
for them to know that God
Catholic, for example). Other Deaf signers, living in countries Deaf person. That’s very important,”
with sensitive political or religious situations, do not want to be
made them, to realize that explains Hunt. “Two—he took him
pictured for fear of suffering persecution. they weren’t just an accident.” away from the crowd. When Deaf
To deal with these technical and social challenges, a team at people are among crowds, they are really confused. It is impor-
JAARS, Wycliffe’s technical arm, has been asked to create special tant that they can come away and be separate.
software used with inexpensive equipment (see related story, “These two stories give the Deaf a sense of value. They are
pg. 28). It will visually capture the movements of Deaf persons valued people.”
signing Bible translations and transfer them into 3D animated And if God values the Deaf, He certainly wants to speak to
characters. them in their heart language.
“We want this to be a tool that anybody in a Deaf community
can use,” says Hunt.

Not An Accident
Ultimately, though, Bible translation in sign language is about
more than techniques and strategies. It’s about providing
Scriptures to help the Deaf understand the special place that
God holds for them in His heart. Hunt points to two specific
Bible passages.

Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 23


Signs Along The Way
As God leads, Wycliffe’s Steve and Dianne Parkhurst are
juggling not one, but two, sign language projects in Spain.

s the rays of the late afternoon sun cast their orange- Using this writing system in these projects goes back to when

A
tinted light on a neighbourhood park in the city of Steve and Dianne began doing language survey in Spain. The
Castellar del Vallès, near Barcelona, local families are research ultimately determined that there are two sign languages
celebrating a day off. Here, in Spain’s proud north- in the country that need Scriptures: LSE, used by an estimated
eastern region of Catalonia, it’s “Fest Major,” a mid- 56,000, and LSC, used by 24,000.
September holiday. Steve and Dianne, from Seattle, Washington, and Shelby,
With Beatles music wafting through the warm air, kids and North Carolina, respectively, were redirected to Spain after
some parents are scaling climbing walls, spinning hoola-hoops, meeting each other in the Mexican Sign Language project in
jumping on inflatable air trampolines and playing with an 1992 and later marrying. Their early work in Spain involved
assortment of retro wooden tabletop games. Wycliffe’s Steve visiting numerous Deaf clubs to gather signs for a 200-item
and Dianne Parkhurst are here too, with their two young sons, word list. They recorded them on paper using SignWriting. The
Spencer and Alex. Parkhursts found little initial interest among the Deaf to help
Strolling around the activities, the elder Parkhursts can’t resist them with Bible translation, but plenty of fascination with learn-
the juggling area. They grab bowling pins, throwing and catch- ing the writing system that the Deaf said looked “like Chinese or
ing them in flashing, side-lit rhythmic circles, sometimes with Egyptian hieroglyphics or something.”
serious, concentrating faces, sometimes with giggles. Steve is
quite good at it; Dianne (at right) is even better, having learned Signwriting Eventually the Parkhursts were asked by the
to juggle long ago from a fellow student studying linguistics at Classes Spanish Deaf Federation to develop a curricu-
the University of North Dakota. lum and teach SignWriting, seen as useful for
This fun opportunity near the Mediterranean coast pretty much training sign language interpreters and others. The couple spent
symbolizes what the Parkhursts do in real life. Steve and Dianne seven years focused on teaching the writing system to about 300
are juggling involvement in not one, but two sign language Bible Deaf and hearing people. These students could read the text fairly
translation projects in this European country: Spanish Sign well after 30 hours of class time.
Language (LSE) and Catalonian Sign Language (LSC). But the Parkhursts eventually learned about some of the
In fact, since arriving 14 years ago, they have juggled a string obstacles to widespread use of SignWriting among the Deaf. In
of new, experimental activities that have served to inform Spain, the Deaf did not gain enough fluency in the system to
Wycliffe’s wider sign language efforts around the globe. feel comfortable writing it. SignWriting is also difficult to do
“Our project is a ‘guinea pig’ project,” says Steve. “We try on computers because it is limited in use to older software or
things and if they fail, then we tell other people why they failed.” web-based technology. There are some
More on the Web: To learn
hang-ups about how “foreign” the sym-
more about SignWriting, visit
Bookish With apartments that have no air condition- <www.signwriting.org>. bol-based writing appears compared to
Workplace ing and not a lot of extra room to work, the the Roman alphabet. SignWriting is also
LSC translation team meets the next morning seen by some Deaf as politically incorrect; an attempt to push a
in a most unlikely place: smack in the middle of the Història hearing culture’s high value of writing a language onto the Deaf
book section of the cool, spacious Castellar Public Library. But “oral” culture.
since they interact entirely in sign language, Steve, Estrella [es- “It’s worked very well for us,” adds Steve. “We’re the only
TRAY-ya] Camacho and Rut [Root] Roldán don’t have to worry team that’s used it, though.” Generally, other sign language Bible
that patrons will complain about them being noisy to “shhhhh”- translation projects are non-written from the outset, using video,
ready librarians. photos or line drawings.
Sitting in front of two laptops at the corner of a table, the trio
is having an animated discussion about the translation Estrella The Living in Madrid, the Parkhursts continued to seek
and Rut drafted of the Book of Esther. Bible text in Spanish fills Nacho ways to kick start Bible translation. Recognizing the
the computer screens while black, drop-down windows show the Factor need to work with the Catholic Church in such a
LSC translation in SignWriting, a system of writing sign languag- Catholic country as Spain, the Parkhursts developed
es using visual symbols to represent hand shapes, movements early contacts with key people in the Church. One of those peo-
and facial expressions. ple was Jose Ignacio Bonacasa (“Nacho”) in Madrid.

24 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


Wycliffe’s Steve Parkhurst (right) and Bible translators, Rut Roldán (left) and Estrella
Camacho (middle), review some signs for a translation of the Book of Esther that
the two sisters-in-law drafted into Catalonian Sign Language. The
language is used by 24,000 Deaf in northeast Spain.

“Our project is a ‘guinea pig’


project. We try things and if
they fail, then we tell other
people why they failed.”

Jose Ignacio Bonacasa (“Nacho”) has a


passion for translating the Scriptures
into Spanish Sign Language, used by
about 56,000 Deaf in Spain. Based in
26 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca Madrid, Nacho has worked extensively
with the Parkhursts for his fellow Deaf.
Nacho had some questions for the Parkhursts at a large meet- publisher of Bible materials in Spain’s sign languages, wants
ing they attended in 2003 of Catholic Deaf ministry leaders. translations to be interconfessional, acceptable to both Catholics
“He said,” recalls Steve, “ ‘Can we translate the Bible? Is that and Protestants. As a result, using a signer from either of these
something that’s doable? Can you help us with that?’ ” groups would limit its use in the other group.
Born in Madrid into a family headed by a military policeman, To sidestep this problem in the Christmas DVD, the
Nacho lost his hearing at age two and was sent by his parents to Parkhursts decided to try 3D animation, another guinea pig type
spend most of his life at residential Deaf schools. Privately run of activity in the world of sign language Bible translation.
but strongly Catholic, one of the schools provided Saturday Bible
classes that instilled some important truths in young Nacho. Animating Steve video recorded himself signing the
“When I was young, they would just really come down hard Dr. Luke Scriptures from a SignWriting translation he and
on me and try to teach me things, and I wasn’t paying attention,” Nacho produced. Then using a lower-end profes-
he explains through Steve as an interpreter. “When I got older, sional computer program, he created a signing avatar, author
different things that I had learned in the Bible stuck with me “Dr. Luke,” who presented the Christmas Scripture passage in
and I realized the importance of the stuff that they taught me.” LSE, matching Steve’s videotaped signs.
After attending a Deaf vocational school, Nacho went on to It was incredibly meticulous work. With delicate precision,
work as an architectural draftsman for a company in Madrid, hands and arms were adjusted. Transitions were smoothed.
a position he’s held for 30 years. Though things have improved Timing was perfected. Movements of eyebrows, glances and
for the Deaf in Spain, Nacho says they still suffer discrimination mouth shapes—all were nudged appropriately into position.
from the general population, generally based on ignorance. Steve worked for seven months to animate 152 verses.
Ignorance also plagues the Deaf, says the 50-year-old deeply “It would take me about eight hours to do one, sometimes
committed Catholic. “The majority of the Deaf don’t read well. two, verses,” he says.
Their identity is not in the spoken language, so they don’t read The work paid off. The interactive DVD, which also includes
the Bible. The majority of the Deaf don’t have any clue about an introduction to the Bible, maps, a dictionary of names and
deep religious stuff.” key terms, was very well received.
When it was proposed that Nacho work with Steve on Bible “In my many years of working with Deaf people,” said one
translation in LSE, he had some initial second thoughts. hearing priest ministering to the Deaf, “I have done everything
“From the beginning, I thought ‘Ooooh—that’s a cross for me I possibly could do to make Scripture understandable by . . .
to bear. I’m not very smart. How am I going to do this?’ explaining things in sign language to the best of my ability. But
“Plus working with a Protestant!” jokes Nacho, with his deep I have never been able to make a successful jump beyond the
laugh and teasing eyes. “But we met together and we liked each written Spanish Scriptures. But now we have the Scriptures in
other. Little by little, we started working together. I didn’t know their own language and someone has finally broken through that
what to do, but [I said] ‘God, it’s your work,’ so I did it.” barrier. . . .”
Nacho was able to give time to the project in the afternoons Said another: “The important thing I saw was how much
each day after his regular job. interest and discussion the DVD generated about the Scripture
passage. It captured their interest and attention.”
Uncovering To see how feasible Bible translation was, Nacho Nacho says the DVD’s reception shows a desire among the
Signs and the Parkhursts agreed to start with the Deaf for the Bible in sign language.
Christmas story. But it didn’t take long to real- “I’ve asked my Deaf friends about this. They’ve said, ‘Give us
ize that they first needed to build a vocabulary for religious more, give us more. Where’s the rest of it? All we’ve got is the
and Bible terms. Many of those signs have fallen out of regu- Christmas story! Come on, hurry up!’
lar LSE use over time. Interacting with older Deaf people and “The Deaf need to be saved,” adds Nacho. “Deaf people are
doing other research, they gathered key terms in sign—such as hungry and they don’t know Jesus yet. It doesn’t matter if you’re
“star town” for Bethlehem—on video, in photographs and in in Africa or America, the Bible’s got to be in sign language.”
SignWriting. It was a fruitful but time-consuming job. Animation is now seen as the main way to publish future
“There was a time when I put tons and tons of time into it; I sign language Scriptures in Spain, possibly accompanied with a
got so tired,” says Nacho. “Sometimes I worked a lot on it and SignWriting version. Steve’s work on the DVD also showed there
then I got frustrated and tired, and put it aside for awhile.” is a need for specialized and more efficient software that the
Though Luke 1-9, Matthew 1-2 and a few parables have been
translated, Nacho’s severe back problems during the past few
years have slowed the work.
Despite the setbacks, Nacho and Steve were able to do an LSE
translation of the Christmas story, culminating in release of a
“Can we translate the Bible? Is that something
46-minute DVD in 2007, entitled “El Nacimiento de Jesús en la
LSE” (“The Birth of Jesus in Spanish Sign Language”). that’s doable? Can you help us with that?”
The DVD is not a video of a live person signing the Scripture
passages about Christ’s birth. The Spanish Bible Society, the
Deaf can use to do high quality, 3D animated sign language Bible
translation. That is exactly what the WordSign team at JAARS,
Wycliffe’s technical arm, is busy creating, with input from Steve
and others with field experience (see related story below).

The Road As Nacho’s illness slowed the LSE translation


to Catalonia project, the Parkhursts began shifting some
focus to LSC. They followed up contacts they
had first developed in 1995 with a remarkable evangelical fam-
ily. The Roldán household included two born-deaf sons, David
and Carlos, and a deeply empathetic daughter, Rut [Root]. The
family was among a growing number of Deaf evangelicals who
met at an annual Deaf Christian camp from all over Spain. The
Parkhursts participated too, watching the attendance go from 25
eight years ago to up to 90 in recent years.
“When we first got here, we could probably count maybe 20
David Roldán (Estrella’s husband)—who has joined the Catalonian Sign
Language team as an animator, with his brother Carlos—carries on a sign [deaf] evangelicals—if that—in all of Spain,” says Steve.
language conversation with a friend using live, two-way video over their The Roldán parents did all they could to help their sons
cell phones. Such video conferencing has opened up a new wireless world advance, get education and become independent. When Carlos
for David and other Deaf in Spain.
was 29 and David was 19, the parents signed up for sign lan-
guage classes. Before that, the school system encouraged them
not to use sign language with them. Rut, on the other hand, used
family signs and gestures to communicate to her brothers, even
when she was a youngster. At age eight, Rut became surprised
that her brothers didn’t want to go to church anymore.
“We’d just go there, we’d just sit there and watch, but not

Animation Creation By Michaela Riley


To date, most sign language Bible translations have been on the project. Translations can be rejected due to a signer’s using a special sign lan-
presented on video; a Deaf signer is video recorded and the appearance, denomination or lack of personal credibility. In guage production editing
video files are manually edited. This process is fraught with some sensitive country situations, signers do not want to be software to be developed
difficulties. Videos can be expensive, time-consuming to identified publicly. by the WordSign project,
record in multiple sessions and difficult to edit, especially for In light of these challenges, Bible translators and support that is a plug-in extension
smooth and consistent delivery. Signers’ appearances may personnel began to wrestle with alternative methods to of Maya, an industry-
change over time, or they may become unavailable for work present the Scriptures in signed languages. Over 10 years standard program for 3D
ago, the concept of 3D animation was considered, animation.
but has only recently become a possibility. With the tools created
In May 2008, representatives from JAARS by WordSign, users will
(Wycliffe’s technical arm), SIL International (Wycliffe’s easily customize the animation to their unique needs: incor-
key partner organization), DOOR International (a porating multiple characters and background scenery (left),
Deaf ministry organization), and an animation tools adjusting lighting, choosing camera angles, adding text,
expert, met together for a two-day planning ses- even zooming and panning across a scene. They will also be
sion. The meeting, at the JAARS centre in Waxhaw, able to integrate historically accurate clothing and scenery
North Carolina, was the launching point for what has creating a video that looks like it was produced during Bible
become a significant project, called WordSign. times. The tools will also allow users to utilize customized,
Personnel in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Dallas culturally appropriate characters (above), regardless of the
and Waxhaw are now collaborating on the project, filmed signer’s appearance. Ethnicity, sex, and age can be
developing tools that will enable language workers changed so they suit each story and audience.
to create photo-real 3D sign language animations The WordSign project will also create a training package,
efficiently and cost-effectively, without requiring enabling translation teams to produce impressive 3D anima-
animation experts. tions in the field.
To create an animated portion of Scripture, users Though much work is yet to be done, team members at the
will video record a Deaf signer using a “stereo cam- JAARS centre are already conducting initial testing of some
era.” The video is recorded on a computer, where animation tools. Beta testing is expected to begin late 2009
specialized software will automatically map the in Spain, with the Catalonian Sign Language team.
signer’s precise movements onto an animated char- Michaela Riley is content manager for the JAARS Inc. website.
acter or avatar. The animation can then be edited
understand anything,” explains David. Several months after dating David, Estrella accepted his invi-
As Rut watched her brothers draw cars and fidget, she real- tation to church.
ized that they were stuck in a silent church world, cut off from “And Rut was interpreting,” says Estrella. “She wasn’t profes-
the truth shared from the pulpit. She gradually learned sign sional, she was kind of slow, but I watched her. Little by little,
language to interpret for her brothers as best she could. That in about one or two weeks, I started to listen—about Jesus and
concern would eventually lead Rut to get training to become a His love. Before that I just didn’t have any love for anybody, any-
competent sign language interpreter.
thing. I opened up to Him and accepted Jesus.
More on the Web: Read
Thanks largely to Rut’s determined “Before I found God, life was empty. I just had a lot of needs,
about David’s two miracles at
efforts at signing, God touched David’s
and [God] was what I needed to fill that emptiness.”
<www.wycliffe.ca/wordalive>.
and Carlos’ hearts and they became After dating for four years, David and Estrella were married.
believers. David, however, waffled between Christian and world- The new bride was welcomed by the supportive Roldáns, com-
ly affections for some years. He finally got serious about servingpensating for the strained relationship she had with her own
God after two miraculous events: being healed, so he could hear family.
for two days, and later being rescued in a scuba diving accident. As for David, his ministry has grown. Today, the 32-year-old
is leader of 25-30 Deaf believers at the hearing Iglesia Evangélica
Jesus Eventually, David met Estrella, a young, attractive (Evangelical Church) in Sabadell, 20 km northwest of Barcelona.
and His blonde woman. Born in Barcelona, Estrella was one He often uses translated Scripture passages in SignWriting as
Love of two deaf girls in a flower-farming family of six. his text. The Deaf group has its own Saturday evening service in
Living in the area, she had spent a few years in a residential LSC and also joins the Sunday evening hearing church service,
Deaf school and then a hearing school, without interpreters. where sister Rut interprets in sign.
“I couldn’t communicate. I felt very isolated,” she recalls. “I Late this past year, David and Carlos sold the two family shoe
would just sit and not understand anything.” repair shops they ran and joined the LSC translation team to
Estrella grew to be very closed, even with her parents, who begin working in sign language animation. The brothers will use
knew no sign language. Teachers suggested she join a Deaf fed- the new software being developed by the WordSign team (see
eration group in Barcelona. It was there that she developed her sidebar story, pg. 28).
Catalonia Sign Language ability and began to blossom as a person. “When I was a kid, I used to draw all the time,” says David.

Estrella Camacho must function outside of her preferred Deaf world—in the surrounding
hearing world in which she lives. That includes doing errands like grocery shopping at
the corner store, using whatever motions and hand gestures necessary to communicate Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 29
to those who don’t know sign language.
The Deaf identify most with the customs, habits, thought patterns,
values and language of their Deaf world. David Roldán (in beige
shirt) and his wife Estrella (extreme right) are no exception. As Deaf
Christians, they are eager to lead their Iglesia Evangélica (Evangelical
Church) Deaf home Bible study and share some fellowship afterwards.

“Now with this opportunity, maybe I could use some of that abil-
ity and mix it with animation. I think that would be wonderful!”

Sisters-in-law Almost four years ago, the Parkhursts asked


Team Estrella to consider doing LSC Bible translation.
Estrella had been working as a hospital cleaner,
juggling that job with caring for her young child.
“I thought at first that I’d just prefer to clean,” says Estrella.
“It’s just easier. Translating, no—I can’t do that.”
Estrella contracted meningitis from working at the hospital,
“I couldn’t communicate. and took 2 ½ months to recover. She and David decided she
I felt very isolated. I would wouldn’t return to her old work. Prayerfully, they considered the
Parkhursts’ request again, with some encouragement from Rut.
just sit and not understand Rut, a wife, mother of two, and trained childcare worker and
anything.” teacher, urged Estrella to work on the Bible translation project.
Rut saw it as an opportunity for her close sister-in-law to learn
new words, deepen her understanding of Scripture and grow
spiritually. “Anything related to the Bible and the Lord—go for
it!” she said.
Estrella finally agreed, acknowledging the deep need her fel-
low Deaf have for unhindered access to God’s Word.

30 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


“They don’t understand. It’s not clear,” says Estrella. “They
need to understand it clearly, and for me it is important. I like
translating. It’s making me grow.”
The Parkhursts also challenged Rut to join the Bible transla-
tion project.
“Me—a Bible translator? I don’t know!” Rut recalls thinking.
“A Bible translator, no. But helping Estrella—yes. Because I’ve
always done that. I’ve always been explaining things to her
from the Bible.”
After some initial training from the Parkhursts, Estrella and
Rut started translating, working three to four hours a day.
“Steve helped us a lot, and Dianne too, to concentrate on what
each word means and all the details that a verse speaks about,”
says Rut, who is thankful that her husband Eloy shares caring
For Wycliffe’s Steve and Dianne Parkhurst, moving Bible translation forward
for the children so she can do translation. in Spain’s sign languages has required making friendships and partnerships
Late last year the Parkhursts moved to Castellar from Madrid among believers with a shared passion for the Deaf. Father Xavier Pagès
to work more closely with Estrella and Rut, rather than just (above), who heads up Deaf ministry at Barcelona’s Santa Teresa de l’Infant
make periodic visits to check their translation. Jesús parish, is a strong Catholic advocate for the Bible translation. (Below)
Among Protestant evangelicals, the Parkhursts (seated extreme left) found
“We could do the draft translation without them [being right support and direct involvement from Rut, her husband Eloy (striped shirt),
here],” says Rut, a petite 30-year-old Shania Twain look-a-like, and sister-in-law Estrella—all part of the extended Roldán family near
“but the work is perfected better if they’re here.” Barcelona.

Ears to The Parkhursts see the sisters-in-law team as a gift


Hear? from God. “Me—a Bible translator? I don’t know! A Bible
“Estrella is deaf so she has that understanding of
what’s natural sign language, what’s good. She knows the translator, no. But helping Estrella—yes.
language very well,” says Steve. “Rut knows the language well, Because I’ve always done that. I’ve always
but she also can read the Spanish [source Scriptures] a lot
better and understand the meaning of the text.
been explaining things to her from the Bible.”
“Each one adds a little something, and they kind of bounce
off each other.”
So far, the team has worked on LSC translations of the books
of Esther and Ruth and the Gospel of Mark, as well as some
“hero stories” (David and Goliath, Joshua and the walls of
Jericho, Gideon, Elijah).
“They’re doing great. The translation, I’m really happy with it,”
says Steve, who brings his linguistic and Bible expertise to the mix.
The team carefully grapples with conveying the meaning
behind Scripture. In some cases, a literal translation of some
verses would falsely leave the Deaf feeling excluded. In Mark, for
example, Jesus twice tells people to ‘hear’ Him if they have ‘ears
to hear’ (4:9 and 4:23).
Jesus is telling people to pay attention to what He is communi-
cating, says Steve. “So the sign that we chose can be interpreted
for either hearing or Deaf people. If you’re deaf, pay attention,
look. If you’re hearing, then listen.”

Hunger to Periodically, the Parkhursts take LSC draft
Understand translations on a 35-minute subway ride into
old Barcelona for community checking with
the Deaf group at the Catholic parish, “Santa Teresa de l’Infant
Jesús.” Led by hearing priest Father Xavier Pagès, the group
includes many seniors, who are valuable sources of feedback.
“This group has the language experience of their many years
in the deep, religious vocabulary that the younger team doesn’t
have,” explains Steve, on one visit to the church.
Xavier says the older Deaf in his parish of about 100 families
attended religious schools taught by nuns, so they have a biblical
Steve Parkhurst converses in Catalonian Sign Language with two knowledge that can benefit the LSC Bible translation project.
parishioners outside their Santa Teresa de l’Infant Jesús cathedral in “We must take advantage of the fact that they are still here on
Old Barcelona. Checking draft sign language translation with older this earth, to give us all these good things before they are taken
Deaf churchgoers is crucial because they have a deep religious and
biblical vocabulary in sign. up to heaven,” adds Xavier, who signs and is a strong supporter
of the LSC translation project.
Xavier has led his mass services entirely in sign language for 15
years. About 20 different Catholic dioceses in Spain have priests,
like Xavier, whose time is divided between the Deaf and hearing.
Xavier sees a marked difference between the hearing and Deaf
people he ministers to in the way they relate to the things of God.
“A lot of hearing people “In hearing meetings, they tend to fill them up with songs and
with actions. Stand up and sit down and do this and do that,”
say, ‘I hear everything, I’ll
he explains. “But the Deaf really seem to like to be quiet and
just take in what I want contemplate.
and ignore what I don’t “A lot of hearing people say, ‘I hear everything, I’ll just take in
what I want and ignore what I don’t want.’ But Deaf people have
want.’ But Deaf people this real hunger for understanding it because there is so much of
have this real hunger the world that just goes by them.”
Nourishing that kind of hunger will keep the Parkhursts and
for understanding it their LSE and LSC Bible translation teams busy for probably at
because there is so much least another decade. They are determined to continue juggling
of the world that just their responsibilities, knowing that God will reveal more signs
along the way—and maybe challenge them with a few more
goes by them.” guinea pig projects, as well.

32 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


Rut Roldán interprets for the small, but growing number of Deaf believers is “no.” Rut and others believe providing God’s Word in their heart sign lan-
in a hearing service at Iglesia Evangélica (Evangelical Church) in Sabadell, 20 guage will go a long way in changing that answer to “yes” for many Deaf.
km northwest of Barcelona. The banner hanging behind her asks, “Do you
believe in the Son of God?” For the vast majority of Spain’s Deaf the answer
Beyond Words

Ring of the Lord’s


Photograph by Alan Hood

Members of the Deaf congregation at Iglesia Evangélica (Evangelical


Church) near Barcelona, Spain, gather in a circle to converse in sign
language after their Sunday afternoon service (see story, pg. 24).
The Deaf usually identify more with other Deaf than even their own
biological hearing family. But these 25-30 deaf Christians have an
even tighter bond—they are members of the family of God, drawn
together in His Spirit.

34 Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca


Last Word

Missio Dei in the Midst of Uncertainty


By Kirk Franklin

T
his year marks the tenth anniversary fall of a series of empires. While most have dis-
of Vision 2025 (a call to action initi- appeared, their influence continues and affects
ated by Wycliffe to see a Bible trans- mission strategy from western nations, which
lation in progress in every language send resources, and non-western nations, which
that needs one by the year 2025). The world receive resources.
certainly looks different than it did 10 years ago. The dignity and identity of all peoples. We are
Even so, we are called to faithfully serve God in all made in God’s image, but sin often blocks
the midst of uncertainty. an understanding of this fact. An indicator of
Many people, if they know of Wycliffe Bible shalom is when people live with “just, peaceful,
Translators, know the Wycliffe organization in harmonious, and enjoyable relationships”3 with
their own country (such as Wycliffe Canada). each other and with God. However, shalom is far
Or, if they know something of Wycliffe’s founder from communities affected by poverty, illiteracy
Cameron Townsend, they may think of Wycliffe and other significant social and spiritual concerns.
as an American sending organization. However, Much mission work is best described as ‘Task
Wycliffe International (WBTI) has become an Partnerships’ because the task is the priority.
organization comprised of 48 “member” and However, we desire to move our practice of mis-
29 “partner” organizations (in Africa, Asia, sion to be integral. The Micah Network defines
the Pacific, the Americas, and Europe), bound integral mission as the “proclamation and dem-
together by a common commitment to serve in onstration of the gospel.”4 Integral mission is
advocacy and action to see God’s Word translated, focused on ‘Kingdom Partnerships’ because the
accessible and in use in Kingdom of God is the priority. We do our part
every language community to plant the seed or water it, but it is “only God,
We desire to see the Holy that still needs it. who makes things grow” (1 Cor 3:7, NIV).
Our biggest challenge These are indicators of some of the rapidly
Spirit transform the lives of is to discern how to best changing social, political, cultural, economic
those we serve in rapidly participate in the missio Dei and religious environments in which we desire
(the mission of God). As to see the Holy Spirit transform the lives of
changing environments. we do so, we are affected by those we serve.
key global challenges and These are daunting times and we value your
opportunities: partnership as we work through them. You play
The changing face of the Church worldwide, an important part in all of this through your
including attitudes, strategies and involve- interest, prayer and support. And for that, we
ment in mission by people of all nations. From say “thank you!”
Romania to the Philippines, people of more
nations are beginning to participate in Bible (Endnotes)
1 D Barrett, T Johnson and P Crossing, ‘Missiometrics 2008: Reality
translation beyond their shores. Checks for Christian World Communions’, International Bulletin of
The growth of the Church in Africa, Asia, Missionary Research, January 2008.
Central and South America. As the Christian 2 Ibid
3 B Myers, Walking with the Poor (1999), Orbis Books.
faith is losing its welcome in parts of the West, it 4 www.micahnetwork.org/en/integral-mission
is finding new homes in the Global South where
91 per cent of new Christians are found1. New Kirk Franklin is executive director of Wycliffe International.
global plans for mission are now initiated and led
by Christians of the Global South2. As this occurs
we want there to be “complete unity” (John 17:23)
between the Church of the Global South and the
West as a witness to the watching world.
The lingering effects of colonialism. The past
five centuries have been marked by the rise and

Word Alive • Summer 2009 • wycliffe.ca 35


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