Wycliffe Associates and a ministry to the deaf announced this week their partnership to translate the Bible into sign languages for the millions of people who do not have access to the Scriptures.
Deaf Opportunity Outreach International (DOOR) will work with Wycliffe Bible Translators and teams of deaf translators from various nations to bring the Scripture in video form to different groups of deaf people.
"Being blind separates you from things, but being deaf separates you from people," explained Bruce Smith, president/CEO at Wycliffe Associates, citing American author Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf as a young child.
"We want to make sure that being deaf doesn't separate you from God," Smith said.
Contrary to popular belief, many people who use sign languages are like oral learners and cannot read the Scriptures. Moreover, sign languages are not based on the spoken language in the country of origin. A person from Latin America, for example, would not be signing in Spanish but in their own unique expressions.
According to Wycliffe Associates, which mobilizes volunteers and resources to support Bible translation efforts, there are more than 200 identified sign languages being used in the world and some 70 million people worldwide communicating with sign language.
Yet despite the need to reach deaf people in their own "heart language," "very few" sign languages are being used to teach the Scripture. Only people who use American Sign Language have the New Testament in video form, while video recording of the Old Testament is in the process.
No other known sign languages in the world have the Bible in complete form.
Wycliffe Associates, in its effort to help Bible translation for the deaf, has sent construction volunteers to San Jose, Costa Rica, where they completed the remodeling of a building that will be used as a studio to record the video translation.
The group plans to build two more studios in Latin America and as many as ten more studios in the years to come to help translations into sign languages.
Since early 2009, Wycliffe Associates has worked closely with DOOR, starting with the construction of DOOR's international headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.
Each year, Wycliffe Associates contribute more than 560,000 volunteer hours to help Bible translation efforts.
This year, Wycliffe Associates plans to mobilize more than 5,600 volunteers to serve in 63 different countries to build and renovate facilities, construct roads and airstrips, teach Vacation Bible School, help with language development and office work, oversee projects, use their computer skills, and more.