Who will stand next to you in Heaven?

  • Lisa Craye
  • May 28, 2017
  • Series: St James Connect Newsletter (Monthly)

The Deaf have historically been a marginalized group of people, neglected by our Government and even by the Church.  We haven’t intended to do this, but it has been our default, because we, who are hearing and reading this article, largely form the majority:   those of us who “have”, seldom think of those who “don’t have”.   In this case, it’s not that the Deaf cannot hear and that “we” can; or that the Deaf have a disability and that “we” don’t…  it’s that “we” have a Bible written in the language of “our” hearts but the Deaf do not have a Bible in theirs.

The Deaf whose first language is Sign Language (SL), do not consider themselves as disabled.  They consider themselves as a people group, known as the Deaf, “deaf” with a capital “D”, as is the case with those of us who are English, Afrikaans, Xhosa or Zulu.  The Deaf have their own culture, as it is with our other language groups within South Africa.  And, of course, the Deaf have their own language, South African Sign Language (SASL).  And it is this language that we have not acknowledged as the language of their hearts. The Deaf are the largest remaining people group in South Africa (SA) who do not yet have the Bible in their language.

SL is not written.  It is not audible.  It is not Braille.  It is visual.  It involves the hands:  hand shape; palm orientation; position in space; movement.  It involves facial expression/non-manual features.  It has its own structure.  Deaf people’s identity is tied up in their language and their culture.  We pray that the Deaf will ultimately find their true identity in Christ.  And, like, with the rest of us who have already received God’s Word in the language of our hearts, we also pray that when the Deaf start receiving God’s Word in their language, that their new-found Christian Culture will become their primary one.

The South African Sign Language Bible Translation Project (TSASLBTP) began in 2013, spearheaded by Hands With Words (HWW), a ministry that seeks to “Love, serve and uplift the Deaf into being a part of God’s Kingdom on earth.” The ultimate way to love, serve and uplift anyone is to give them the gift of God’s Word in the language of their hearts.    In our fifth year of persevering with numerous challenges in what we know is a work of God, this will be the year that the first 32 translated Bible passages (with introductions and Q&As) will be distributed to the hundreds of thousands of Deaf in SA!  We hope this will happen towards the end of International (and National) Month of Deaf People, September 2017.

We are beginning with what is known as Chronological Bible Translation.  These comprise of selected Bible passages, from Genesis to Revelation, distributed in three sets:  Evangelistic (“Know God How”); Discipleship (“Follow God How”); Believers Fellowship (“Serve God How”).  In total, there will be 110 translated Bible passages.  Thereafter, we will continue having the entire Bible translated into SASL – “Together, for everyone, for Christ”, right?

We began with a team of just three Deaf Bible Translators.  Now in 2017, we have two-teams-within-a-team, as well as Scripture Engagement Specialists in training.  By 2018, we will have three-teams-within-a-team.  By 2019, we will have four-teams-within-a-team.  With these people in place, we should be able to have the entire written Bible translated into SASL and distributed in various forms (downloadable off specific websites; DVDs; USBs; micro-SD cards for cell-phones) and integrated into the lives of Deaf people in the next 30 years or so.  Should we gain more teams, we should potentially be able to complete the entire translation sooner.

HWW experience of St. James Church has been “Together, for everyone, for Christ”.  We were taken “under her wing” in 2006, when we began this ministry as Talking Hands.  When we needed to grow into a Bible translation agency for the Deaf in 2013, registered as an NPC under our new name, St. James was still there for us.  This is Church.  It is the responsibility of the Church to “go into all the nations” (Matt. 28:19) – St. James has contributed in a big way towards this.  Visitors and people involved in the same kind of work as us from other areas of the world have been struck by the fact that we operate from an actual church.

We are so grateful to God and give Him the glory.

To learn more about TSASLBTP and other areas of the ministry of HWW and to see how you can get involved, please visit our website www.handswithwords.org.za or our Facebook Page www.facebook.com/handswithwords. 

We still do need support and it has been our desire from the beginning that the Church in SA be our primary supporters/givers.  Acts 2:42-47, speaks of the early church.  In this model, those who have,  give, to those in need.  What do we have that the Deaf don’t have?  We have the Bible, written in our heart languages. The Deaf are waiting to receive theirs for the first time in SA’s history.  We have an opportunity to live as Christ would want us to and to give to the Deaf what they rightfully deserve, His entire Word – “Together, for everyone, for Christ” – imagine one day in Heaven you find yourself worshiping the Lamb next to someone who had previously been Deaf on earth!