By Amy Ting
Have you ever wondered how Deaf people do church?
I went to a Deaf church here in Romania the second weekend I was here. Apart from a few of us from the team who are hearing, and occasionally some CODAs (child of deaf adult), everyone else was Deaf. Everything was in Romanian sign language.
People were very friendly, many came up to say hi. With the limited Malaysian sign language I knew, I tried to introduce myself. (FYI: sign language is not universal, just like how we don’t have a universal spoken language) At some points, I resorted to the whiteboard to write or draw what I meant. Thankfully, the Deaf were very understanding with my limited language capability.
My favourite part was the singing. Very often, they would pick a Psalm from the Bible and sing(sign) it, along with a beat – think Col 3:16 with a twist. Sign language is very visual language, so instead of hearing it, we see it. Other times, they would use a song from YouTube and sign along. Note of caution: Deaf church can be quite loud. Since the Deaf have varying degrees of hearing, the volume of the music is turned up so they can feel the vibrations, which can be far too loud if you are a normal hearer!
During the sermon, I tried my best to follow along. Sometimes there were pictures, PowerPoint slides, and Bible verses that I could look up in English, which helped. When it went too long without something I could understand, my concentration started to lapse, and I started getting bored. Then it occurred to me… That’s what a Deaf person feels on a weekly basis when the only option they have is a hearing church with no interpreter!
I remember my Deaf teacher in Kuching telling me about her experience going to church with her family. It was a Chinese church with no interpreter, and she was bored most of the time because she simply couldn’t understand what was going on. She couldn’t even read Mandarin, because she was English educated. It’s like watching a foreign movie without subtitles. Eventually, she stopped going.
But it doesn’t always have to be this way. The Deaf are capable of leading Deaf churches and understanding the Bible, given that they have access to it in a language that they understand best – sign language. The role of someone like me (hearing) is not to take over their role and translate the Bible for them, but rather to come alongside the Deaf and do it with them.
How can you be a part of this? By prayer! Please pray that God will give the sign language translation teams wisdom, patience and the skills that they need to record the video drafts, check with the Deaf community and then revise the translation. Please also pray that God will give them faithfulness and insight so the translated Scriptures will be accurate and expressed in a way that makes sense to the Deaf.
Bahasa Isyarat Malaysia Bible Translation (BIMBT) was established in Malaysia on 29 November 2009. BIMBT’s purpose is to work towards translating the written Bible into Malaysia’s Sign Language in video format, as well as to promote the use of Malaysia’s Sign Language as a true language. For more information, please visit www.mydeafbible.org