Deaf Missions releases first-ever film about Jesus' life entirely in ASL: 'Shake awake the Church'

A still from 'JESUS: a Deaf Missions film.'
A still from "JESUS: a Deaf Missions film." | Screenshot/Deaf Missions

In an unprecedented move, the deaf community will see the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus like never before on the silver screen in "JESUS: A Deaf Missions Film," the first-ever feature film presented entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).

Debuting in theaters on June 20, the film, directed by Joseph D. Josselyn and starring Gideon Firl, both of whom are deaf, is a project of Deaf Missions, a ministry dedicated to communicating the Gospel of Jesus with Deaf people through their heart language, culture and identity, in partnership with GUM Vision Studio.

"Growing up in a Christian family, I watched many films about Jesus. But I always wondered, what if these movies were in sign language?" Josselyn told The Christian Post through an interpreter. "After joining Deaf Missions in 2006, the idea began to take shape, though it seemed daunting at the time due to the scale of production, technology and funding required."

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

Years of experience and the successful completion of the ASL Bible bolstered Josselyn's confidence. "We initially created a film adaptation of the book of Job, which gave us the experience we needed. We felt ready to pursue a larger project, leading us to 'JESUS,'" he explained.

"JESUS: A Deaf Missions Film” dramatizes key moments through Jesus’ ministry, including His miracles, His transformative power and His challenges to the religious elite in a time of high tension under Roman rule in Judea, entirely in ASL.

“The Jews were anticipating a Messiah, but Jesus was not what they expected. What the religious leaders orchestrated to be Jesus’ end instead changed the world forever,” notes the film's description.

Josselyn told CP that filmmakers “went back-and-forth and wrestled” over which aspects of Jesus’ life to include in the film, finally settling on the core purpose of His ministry — His forgiveness of sins and His love.

“We narrowed it down to the things that would bring the most clarity to who Jesus was in His ministry,” he said.

The journey to create the film was not without its challenges, the director added.

"Producing a full feature film in sign language requires significant resources," Josselyn noted. "But advancements in technology and the power of social media have made it possible. Removing the barriers of captions and interpreters, we let Jesus sign directly to the audience, creating a profound impact."

The film is produced “for deaf by deaf,” according to Josselyn, with a cast fluent in ASL, though it does include a soundtrack and English subtitles.

Firl, who plays Jesus, spoke about the unique nuances he brought to the role through ASL: “It was really easy because Jesus is still alive,” he said. “We have His voice and His character in us. That’s what I copied. I didn’t have to think of much when it came to that; I didn't have to feel like I was laboring and toiling … I just asked the Father. The Holy Spirit was the One that helped me to emulate that."

The film's impact on the deaf community and beyond is something both Josselyn and Firl are excited about. As the film hits theatres, it will hopefully open new doors for communication and understanding, they said. 

“We had the vision that this would reach deaf people through the churches and community centers hosting it, but we never really thought that it could be in the movie theater,” Josselyn said.

“This was such a big opportunity for us. … It's the best place for deaf people to watch movies, in a movie theater, to be able to sit, to feel like they're part of the audience.  This experience is just the best option for all people, not just Christians, not just unbelievers, not just the deaf, but lots of people who might be resistant to the Gospel. But if you invite them to a movie theater, they're going to be like, ‘Sure, I'll go watch a movie.’”

Firl highlighted the broader implications of the film, expressing hope that it will foster greater inclusion within the broader Christian community. 

“It’s a beautiful way for people to begin to see and understand the kind of God that we have, and who Christians worship,” he said. “I'm so excited for unbelievers in the deaf community, and there are so many. Churches are not as accessible as we might think when it comes to deaf people. There might be one room way upstairs, way back in the back, that might be for deaf people to gather to have their church service on their own and not be part of the mainstream church. I'm praying that this movie would shake awake the Church, wake people up to see who Jesus is.”

So far, the response from the deaf community has been overwhelmingly positive, the director said. "At our red carpet events in Texas, Louisiana and Kentucky, the feedback was incredible," Josselyn shared. "Honestly, I was overwhelmed. I cried … we saw it in real life, people understanding their heart language. It was amazing. The responses were truly incredible. People were really excited about it, the community is sharing it, it's growing.”

Firl expressed hope that "JESUS: A Deaf Missions Film" will serve as a reminder that the hearing community has a biblical mandate to recognize deaf individuals as integral members of the Body of Christ. He reflected on the unity that should exist within the Church, imagining the conversations the Apostle Paul might have about the issue.

“I want hearing people to be aware that there are deaf people, and there are so many that haven’t talked with a deaf person in their entire lives,” he said. “My heart is for the hearing community to recognize that deaf people are of the same Body, to start engaging, asking, ‘How can I serve you? How can we serve each other?’”

“This film is a way to spotlight how we can bring people together in unity,” he said. 

Josselyn also challenged the deaf community to step up and lead, stressing that empowerment is a crucial element in bridging the gap between the deaf and the hearing communities.

“The big word is ‘empowerment,’ for deaf people to be able to lead — that is so vital,” he said. “Deaf, in the past, they’ve come to a place where they know better than to partner with a hearing group because of the disempowerment. I want to encourage and empower the deaf to be able to lead, to step up and do their part.”

Tickets for “JESUS: a Deaf Missions” film can be purchased online here and at participating theater box offices. Watch the trailer below.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles