This is not the first celebration of this kind that DOOR has been able to hold. In 2014, DOOR partners and pastors gathered to celebrate the completion of a DVD that told Bible stories using seven different sign languages for deaf people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The June 9th celebration in Kenya will mark the completion of portions of the Bible in the Kenyan Sign Language, Mozambican Sign Language, Nigerian Sign Language, and South Sudanese Sign Language.
Approximately one percent of the world population – about 70 million people – are deaf. Of those, fewer than 140,000 have been reached for Jesus Christ. That leaves a mission field of more than 68 million people but there is not a universal sign language system.
Many of the obstacles to reaching deaf people around the globe are the same as reaching the hearing. While the obstacles are similar, they are much more difficult.
At first blush, teaching a deaf person in Africa may not seem so hard. After all, deaf people can read. The problem is that, since one of their major links to life is dysfunctional, even if they can read and have a Bible translated into their national language or tribal dialect, they are unable to understand the meaning of many words and phrases. This is especially true for a deaf person of any language trying to comprehend Scripture.
Further complicating the matter, the majority of deaf people around the world are functionally illiterate. Language is learned primarily through hearing, so many children enter school without the language comprehension of otherwise normal children. One DOOR representative explained that written language is not a deaf person’s first language. Their first language is sign language.
There are at least 350 sign languages in the world. More than a few well-intentioned people have wondered why there isn’t a universal sign language. The answer to that may be in the form of another question. Why isn’t there one universal spoken language?
“DOOR believes that the best people to reach Deaf for Christ are Deaf believers. We help recruit and train pairs of Deaf leaders from the local community to form what we call “2-by-2 teams.” These teams, comprised of an evangelist and a teacher, are equipped with a translation of God’s Word in sign language and biblical training. The goal is a model of church planting that is Deaf-led, reproducible, and sustainable.”
DOOR’s sign language Bible translation efforts are now in their 12th year. The organization has already worked to translate difficult Scriptural concepts in 16 different languages. DOOR uses Chronological Bible Translation to provide “a very clear, accurate, and natural way to teach.” Each Chronological Bible Translation is comprised of 110 narratives, including 32 in a set of “Know God How,” 77 in a set of “Follow God How,” and 35 in a set of “Serve God How?” The first two sets overlap and cover Genesis 1 through Acts 2. The third set covers Acts 1 through the book of Revelation.