Digital Bible in the works to help deaf hear God’s word
When he was a child, he used to envy his siblings, pastor Julius Andrada recalled.
“I was left at home to do the chores while they were sent outside to study and play,” he said, adding that before he became a Christian, he used to question God. “Why did he make me deaf? Why am I not normal?” He was so depressed he wanted to die, Andrada said.
But things started to change when his sign language teacher at Maranatha Church led him to God when he was 14, the pastor said. Now 50, Andrada said he hopes to do the same for other deaf individuals through a Bible meant for them.
Andrada, the president of the Philippine Deaf Language Association, and Peter Ding Basa, the project director of the Filipino Sign Language Bible Translation, are part of an ongoing fundraising project led by the Philippine Bible Society and the United Bible Societies (UBS) aimed at producing the first translation of the Bible in Filipino.
The fundraising started on Friday during the Philippine Bible Society’s 117th anniversary, where the group spoke about its vision for the Bible translation project that would make it easier to preach the Word of God to the deaf.
The Bible for the deaf will be a digital translation featuring a lone interpreter using the Filipino sign language for each 3- to 5-minute-long story, whose video has no subtitles.
Teaching the Bible through sign language is nothing new to Andrada and Basa who were born deaf. As most of the attendees in their Bible-reading sessions are unable to or have a hard time reading, the pastors would tell them Bible stories through hand gestures and facial expressions, age-old techniques used by seasoned storytellers.
“God’s message is for all,” said Chris Dale, UBS Deaf Ministry coordinator, and a sign language Bible expert.
UBS is a global alliance of some 150 international Bible societies that operates in 200 countries, including the Philippines. The Philippine Bible Society is headed by Retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
So far, there are over 400 sign languages used by 70 million deaf people worldwide, but only about 2 percent of them have heard or received God’s word, Dale said. There is no complete sign language Bible yet and only the New Testament is available in the American sign language, he added.
In the Philippines, there are an estimated 1 million deaf people, most of whom have not yet heard of the Gospel, the group said.
“Think of the Bible verses that encouraged you when life was difficult … This is the experience of most deaf people: God has not been revealed; His message is still out of reach,” Dale said.
Every week, both Andrada and Basa counsel the deaf and talk about God’s plans for them through their own cell or Bible study group.
Most deaf people have problems with insecurity, and are confused and sensitive about their hearing impairment, Andrada said, adding that this was all the more reason they should hear God’s word. But without a Bible to guide the deaf and help them reflect and meditate, this is difficult, he added.
A pastor for more than 20 years now, Andrada said he was himself not interested in preaching until he received God’s word from Acts to go and reach out to the world. The story of Moses who refused to preach because of his speech problem never felt more real to him than at this point, he added through an interpreter.
“With the Bible for the deaf, relaying God’s message would be easier. We can rest,” said Andrada, who is part of the deaf ministry of Capitol City Baptist Church in Quezon City, Christ Commission Fellowship (CCF) in Pasig and Philippine iYewon Church in Biñan, Laguna.
“When discouraged, I share Philippians 4:2 with my deaf church members,” Andrada said. “I can do all things through God who strengthens me,” he quoted.
Lost in translation
Andrada’s wife May is one of the featured translators for
the Bible project, and so is his son Jules Vincent. Though not hearing- nor speech-impaired, both Jules and May support Andrada in his vision of spreading God’s word.
Basa, a member of Dasmariñas First Assembly of God in Cavite, agreed. There were times when some believers backslide because they do not understand the Bible or were confused, he said.
Gunnar Magi, marketing and brand manager of UBS, said coming up with a visual translation of the Bible for the deaf is difficult since good researchers and translators are needed. In their study, Magi said some of the Bible’s messages had been lost in translation. Some insights were not exactly accurate or Bible-based, he added, resulting in some misconceptions.
So far, only nine of the 110 stories in the Bible have been translated and revised. More translators and experts are needed to finish the five-year project. The translation would cost at least $52,000 a year, said Billy Dorsey, a Grammy-award winning singer and songwriter who performed for the charity event at CCF on Friday.
Dorsey is part of UBS who travels around the world to spread God’s word. The CompanY and the Catholic City Baptist Church Deaf Choir also performed at the fundraising event.
When discouraged, I share Philippians 4:2 to my deaf church members: “‘I can do all things through God who strengthens me.’ This was my saving grace,” Andrada said.
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