A mobile app from the Deaf Bible Society is bringing the gospel to an under-reached people group. Currently, only 2 percent of deaf people have heard the gospel, but the Deaf Bible Society is hoping to increase this percentage by using sign language to make the gospel more approachable and accessible. On the Deaf Bible Society (DBS) website, one user named Tanya describes how valuable the app has been to her:
Before I felt so disconnected, but now I have a relationship with God. I feel so close to Him… I’m so thankful for the gift of God’s word in sign language.
The update to the Deaf Bible app improves the user experience and contains a greater variety of content than the app previously had. The purpose of the Deaf Bible app is to provide video translations of the Bible in multiple sign languages, and the updated features include the ability to auto-play upcoming videos, watch videos offline, and save the user’s place in the video when switching from the app to the website.
Why the Need?
Contrary to what some might assume, there is not one single sign language that people use throughout the world. As with spoken languages, sign languages differ by region of the world and even have their own accents and dialects.
The main sign language deaf people use in North America is American Sign Language, or ASL. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Common Disorders (NIDCD), ASL “contains all the fundamental features of language” and is “completely separate and distinct from English.”
Some might wonder, why do people with hearing disabilities need the Bible translated into a sign language? Why can’t they simply read it? According to the Deaf Bible Society website, one reason is that in some parts of the world, up to 80 percent of children never receive a formal education and therefore do not know how to read.
The other reason is that a sign language is a distinct language. It’s not simply a version of English or another language in the world. If a sign language is someone’s native tongue, then reading any text requires that person to process a second language. And taking in information in a second language always requires greater effort than comprehending it in one’s mother tongue.
Tanya describes what this was like for her, saying,
I remember how it used to be reading the Bible, having to go through word by word in English. Trying to make sense of it all, I’d try to paint a picture in my mind of what was being said. I remember thinking, God, I want to be able to communicate with you. I want to understand who you are.
It was through understanding the Bible in sign language that she was finally able to connect with God.
According to the Deaf Bible Society, there are 70 million deaf people throughout the world and only 2 percent of them have ever heard the gospel. What’s more, “There are not enough Christians among the Deaf to establish and grow their own churches.”
With this need in mind, the DBS has translated the Bible into over 25 different sign languages and is working on more sign language translations. This way, those who are deaf can one day say along with Tanya, “Now I know that He is my father, my beloved.”