A Great Need | Wycliffe Bible Translators

A Great Need

  • May 26, 2020
Deaf person using sign language

“Working with Wycliffe is all my wife’s fault,” Terry laughed. “I thought serving with Wycliffe meant going into a village in the middle of nowhere and staying there for the rest of my life. … I thought Rachel was crazy!”

But Rachel was passionate about linguistics, and Terry knew he was supposed to serve unreached people groups. In 2009, when the couple attended summer linguistics courses at the University of North Dakota, they weren’t surprised when their two passions came together in sign language translation.

“Rachel was in a Paraguayan Sign Language class, and I would constantly look over her shoulder to see what she was doing. It was so much more interesting than what I was doing,” Terry said. “I started interacting with some of the sign language workers and Deaf people there. I felt the Lord was calling me to do something no one else was doing where no one else was doing it.”

Terry is a sign language translation consultant for Deaf translation teams in Asia. He trains the translators, assists with Biblical understanding and checks the translation for clarity, accuracy, and naturalness before it gets to publication. He also works with local partners on strategies for sign language development, Deaf education, sign language access and Deaf rights throughout the Pacific." Rachel focuses on the challenge of sign language linguistics and Deaf language acquisition.

“Looking at where I am now, [as a young person] I never would have guessed in a million years this is where I would be,” Terry admitted. “But God has been so faithful in directing our paths!”

Breaking Down Barriers

“God doesn’t have a problem communicating with his people,” Terry said. “He communicates with [the Deaf] in the way they understand. … We want to bring the Bible to a place where they don’t have to work at understanding it. … We want to take down as many barriers as we can to communicate God’s Word and [his] love.”

Sign language Bible translation follows the same principles of spoken language translation so that each translation will be clear, accurate and natural. But for Deaf teams, the translation process is much slower than for spoken languages. Deaf translators memorise not only the words of Scripture but also the emotions, mood, and intent of the passage they are recording, so that all the grammatical information can be expressed flawlessly in front of the camera. Editing the video and changing passages is much trickier than simply retyping a word. In sensitive countries, teams might need to use technology to alter faces to protect the sign language translators.

Today, over 70 million Deaf in the world sign over 400 languages. But not a single sign language has a fully translated Bible.*

“My favorite part [of my job] is seeing a people group ... gaining access directly to God’s Word,” Terry said. “They say, ‘Oh, that’s what that means? I couldn’t understand that before.’”

In one part of Asia, Terry was visiting a sign language team who had finished translating 32 passages of Scripture, spanning from Genesis to Acts. A local hearing church found out about the project and wanted to help. They held a film viewing of the translated Scripture passages and nearly 20 Deaf people came. Out of that one meeting, a Deaf church was born. “There was never a Deaf church in that city before,” Terry exclaimed, “but now there is a Deaf pastor running a Deaf church and they have access to God’s Word.”

Learning Together

The needs of a sign language translation team aren’t necessarily the same as a spoken language team, but Terry finds this challenging and beautiful. “Because the Deaf community has been oppressed by so many people for so long, we have to humble ourselves and ask lots of questions and assume we don’t know the answers. God is faithfully taking care of details, training them up in the ways they need [in order] to be ministers of the gospel to their own people and culture.”

“[Sign language translation] is exciting because it's new,” he continued. “We’re still trying to figure it out. There is so much that hasn’t been done! … Millions of people don’t have access to the Word of God in their own language. ... That’s what motivates me [and] excites me. The need is great, but I can’t wait to see how God can use Wycliffe to meet [it].”

Learn more about sign language translation in Asia by watching this video.

*This is based on the translation standards established by the Forum of Bible Agencies International. The American Sign Language Bible is being completed by Deaf Missions in collaboration with partners like American Bible Society, Seed Company, DOOR International, Deaf Bible Society, Pioneer Bible Translators and Wycliffe USA.