An American team of deaf Christians visited in April, and this Sunday was our follow-up for any deaf who were interested in studying the Bible. Would anyone come?
We were nervous. After two years of studying Portuguese Sign Language, we can have basic conversations with the deaf here. Teaching the Bible is another story . . . especially when the deaf themselves don’t have signs for basic Bible terms like “pastor” or “sin”. We often use the back-door approach of giving examples of what we mean, and then letting the deaf develop their own signs for the terms. It’s a lengthy process, and one we do not take lightly. This Bible study could be foundational to a deaf ministry in Portugal. “Please, Lord,” we prayed, “do Your work, and don’t let us mess it up.”
Soon, a van pulled up. They were here — five deaf people, plus a hearing child! Through a combination of Portuguese Sign Language and drawings, the deaf asked questions, shared their viewpoints, and saw what the Bible said. Some of their questions were deep and interesting, such as what God looks like or how the world held together on Day 2 when there was only water. Some of the teaching was basic. For example, no one had ever taught them how to look up references in the Bible. We drew a map, and compared the book to the street name, the chapter to the building, and the verse to the apartment number. You could see the “light bulb” turn on through their expressions. They developed their own signs to use for “book of the Bible”, “chapter”, and “verse”. They wanted to come up with a sign for “Genesis” too, but decided to wait until they had studied the entire book.
In the end, we asked them to sign the story on video to preserve it and share it with other deaf people. One of them said, “I don’t think the Bible stories have been recorded in Portuguese Sign Language before.” We all paused a moment, realizing the importance of what was taking place. When the night ended, they asked if they could take home their drawings and work on the video more to perfect it. (Of course!) 🙂 What a thrilling answer to prayer! We hope these studies will continue on a regular basis; that this entire group will be saved; and that God will use them to reach more deaf people for Him.