Features

Sounds of silence

"Sounds of silence" Continued...

Issue: "New faces of New Orleans," Aug. 15, 2009

An arm of Wycliffe in Spain is experimenting with Bible translation into sign animation, which allows easier video editing and makes the delivery of the text more neutral. When a live person is signing the Bible on a DVD, those watching may read the person's personality into the text. Animation removes those preconceptions-though Wycliffe's Bickford explains that the process of animating one verse may take eight hours. Also, signers in places like India and China are nervous about being videotaped translating the Bible for fear of reprisals from extremists.

Language can divide the deaf not just from the Bible but from the church itself. Any difficulty deaf people have with English, Thiessen says, often causes hearing people to think that the deaf have lower intelligence: Churches often treat the deaf as "someone less-than," and then deaf resentment of churches blossoms.

Feeling cut off from the church, some deaf people have a hard time believing that salvation can belong to them, too. Thiessen is among the 1 percent of deaf people with regular church participation, but he notes that some among the deaf think "the church is for hearing people."

Thiessen reflects, "Prayer for me was the hardest. I think it might be the same for every deaf person. We are so dependent on our eyes, and we can't see God. When deaf people talk to each other, we have to be locked eye to eye. When I talk with God, I can't see His eyes."

Thiessen recommends that "hearing church" members learn ASL, preferably from a deaf person, and refrain from patronizing attitudes, instead treating the deaf as equals. Bickford remembers teaching a deaf linguistics course at the University of North Dakota, where four of his 12 students were deaf. One day he taught the course in ASL instead of in spoken English, and had a person translate that for the hearing students.

Building bridges requires resources: a good translator, or better, a deaf pastor and deaf-oriented curriculum and teaching. Some suggest having semi-circular rooms for deaf worship, so signs can be easily seen. These can be costly investments for a small slice of the church population, since few churches with deaf ministries have more than a dozen deaf members.

Yet, as Thiessen says, "The burden will always be on the hearing church to relate with us, because our ears will never be fixed. Hearing people can modify themselves to fit into our world, but we can't modify ourselves to fit into their world."

What you can do?

To understand more about deafness, read Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries National/international­ministries promoting deaf leadership and deaf churches include: Wycliffe Bible Translators (wycliffe.org); St. Louis (sil.org) `0 DOOR International (doorinternational.com) `0 Deaf Missions and (deafmissions.com).

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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