Jesus Speaks Sign Language in Mongolia
How you are sharing a sign language Bible with deaf brothers and sisters in Mongolia
March 18, 2020Print this article
Javzaa clutches her Bible with both hands, weaving through Ulaanbaatar’s city traffic on her walk to church. She passes the colorful boxy buildings, the statues of Genghis Khan, her favorite shop to grab a quick order of buuz (dumplings). Javzaa was born deaf, so she doesn’t hear the cars honking, the restaurants’ pots clanging, the kids laughing as they push one another into caked snow.
When she enters the church doors, Javzaa feels the beat of the worship drum pulse through her even though she can’t hear it. She hums along to the vibrations. Her pastor begins the sermon, and Javzaa’s eyes dart to the sign language translator off to the side. She follows along, watching intently. Her pastor asks everyone to open their Bibles to James.
Javzaa opens her Bible, but she can’t find James. She’s had her Bible for years, but she can’t really use it. It doesn’t even really feel like her Bible. Its gold edges glow pristine. Crinkly pages stick together. The margins hold no scribbles,no notes.
After church, Javzaa sits slumped in her dining room chair, hovering over her Bible. Hot tears sting her eyes. Like 99 percent of Deaf Mongolians, Javzaa doesn’t read or write Mongolian. “Lord,” she prays, “I can’t read this. I want to know you. I want to read your Word. Help me read your Word. Help me, Lord.”
Javzaa speaks with her body. She pays attention to the way people around her move, what they tell her in a head tilt or crossed arms. She uses her hands, shoulders, and even her eyebrows to tell you her thoughts and emotions. She speaks Mongolian Sign Language.
Right now, not a single sign language Bible in the world exists. More than 466 million deaf people around the world live every day without a Bible in their language. But you are working to change that!
Little did Javzaa know—while sitting at her dining room table—that God was about to connect her to a group of people at Ulaanbaatar’s Deaf Church who would work with her to translate the first Mongolian Sign Language Bible.
The First Mongolian Sign Language Bible
When Javzaa joined the Deaf Church, it felt like home. She found a community of Deaf people just like her! They sing and worship in sign. Their pastor, who is also deaf, recites passages of Scripture with her hands.
Javzaa and others at the Deaf Church asked themselves, “How can we keep experiencing God’s Word on other days besides Sunday?” They felt the pain of not being able to connect to Psalms of comfort on troubling nights, of not being able to examine Jesus’s teachings for themselves when making a hard decision. That’s when they decided to fix the problem themselves and translate the whole Bible into Mongolian Sign.
Every week, Javzaa meets with the translation team in a small office they transformed into a makeshift studio to film the Bible translation. The team is made up of people with different talents: some fluent in sign and written Mongolian, some fluent in Hebrew and Greek, some (like Javzaa) who perform the sign translation on video. The curtains are drawn, the camera rolls. Javzaa signs God’s Word in front of a greenscreen where they can add the written verses so deaf and hearing groups can follow along together.
Translating and filming a single verse can take longer than a week because some written words from the Bible aren’t yet formalized in sign language. And, since sign language is so visual, the team has to agree on things hearing people never even think about. How high up the mountain did Jesus go during the transfiguration? How do we create a sign for the word “transfiguration”? The translators huddle around a table, discussing for hours on end. The grueling work gives them life because they know they are doing God’s work. They work in anticipation for the day when the whole Bible will be translated into Mongolian Sign.
The translators from the Deaf Church knew they couldn’t translate the whole Bible on their own. They didn’t have nearly enough funding or expertise in translation. So they asked the Mongolian Union Bible Society to collaborate with them. Because of your generous support, the Mongolian Union Bible Society was able to answer their request! The Bible Society helped the Deaf Church team decide which books to tackle first and how to make sure their translations are accurate—and committed to financially supporting their translation work. In 2019, you helped complete the book of James!
You and Javzaa Brought the Book of James to Deaf Christians
Javzaa recently shared a video Sign Language Bible portion of James with her friends who can’t hear. She couldn’t wait to tell them about it! So she traveled 11 hours on an overnight train to a small village called Bulgan. Since the Mongolian Sign Language translation is on video, she downloaded the video onto her phone.
Javzaa sat on a bench in her friends’ ger (semi-permanent tent), flies buzzing overhead, a beam of sunshine peeking through the ceiling flaps. Javzaa’s friends crowded around her, glued to the tiny screen in her hands. One of her friends, Shirininkov, nodded along as he watched God’s Word unfold before his eyes.
Deaf Mongolians like Shirininkov long to have a full Bible of their own. “With the sign language Bible, I can understand God’s Word, and when I learn God’s Word, then I can grow in my faith,” signs Shirininkov. He can’t wait for the day when he can simply tap his phone and watch God’s Word anywhere, even in his remote country ger.
There’s More to Be Done!
You travel with Javzaa every day, whether to the translation studio or a remote village where she shows God’s Word to Deaf Christians for the first time. You sit alongside her and her friends as they translate the Bible.
Javzaa signs, “This sign Bible is so very, very important to me and to all Deaf people. Because through that sign Bible, it will minister to us. I’m asking all of you, will you please help us? There are many souls in need. The one help that they need most is the Word of God in sign language.”
You can bring the Mongolian Sign Language Bible to life faster than anyone can imagine. With your support, Deaf Mongolians can finally see God’s Word. They can watch as Noah embarks on the ark. They can follow along with Paul as he travels to bring the Good News. Finally, they’ll be able to see truths from Jesus whenever they need a loving word from their Savior.
“We want Deaf people to be saved. We want them to be able to know God’s Word. This is my deepest desire,” shares Javzaa. “If you pray for us and help us have this Bible, I can only say thank you. Thank you so very, very much.”
Share first Bibles with Deaf communities like Javzaa’s and more at give.bible/sign
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