My time in Sri Lanka

Preparation

Where do I even begin? I suppose it all starts months back when we were in a meeting at Deaf Bible’s home office in Albuquerque, NM. We were discussing FOBAI’s (Forum of Bible Agencies International) desire to have the inaugural meeting for the Deaf and Sign Language Development Group. I don’t think I knew what I was taking on when I said I would help organize it.

I had planned meetings in the past, but as it turns out trying to organize a meeting with different organizations coming together to discuss various topics related to translation and engagement wasn’t a simple task. Then throw in the fact that it all has to take place in a country in SE Asia! But I suppose things like that kind of excited me. I was eager to plan it and see it come to fruitfulness. I do thank my team, and our partners for all of the help that they provided. Whether it was emailing, having video phone calls, presenting on various topics, recording the whole meeting in video so we would have adequate minutes in ASL, and just simply being hands and feet. They proved themselves to be powerful servants in the Kingdom work and I was and am grateful for them.

 

Departure

We took off from the Albuquerque Sunport at around 11:59PM on April the 6th. Our flight to JFK was a decent one but trying to stay awake until my flight to Dubai was quite.. umm… exhausting! We were off to a wonderful start as we had a beautiful 4 1/2 hour layover in New York before our 2nd leg of the trip. We found our gate and one of the only open restaurants in the area, and so we sat down and ordered breakfast.

It became quite humorous as we started to play some card games. One of those games required you to use 4 quarters. Each time you “lost” you put in a quarter and the person who had quarters left won. The problem was we didn’t have quarters and so we improvised. We had dollar bills! In our fatigue and exhaustion in travels we began to realize just how odd we looked. We then recognized the fact that our quaint little breakfast place was an Irish Pub in which we were playing cards and using cash that was being thrown in a pile in the middle of the table. An innocent mistake… that could have been misunderstood. This gave us quite a laugh as we thought, “We’re just folks from a Bible agency headed to an International Bible conference.” I’m sure you can see the humor in that.

We finally made it to Colombo, Sri Lanka and were just walking out of the airport with our driver when we realized this was no ordinary day. You see we had arrived at the same time as the World Cup Champions Sri Lankan cricket team. It was certainly an exciting time for the Sri Lankans and being in the midst of their hundred thousand person crowd outside the airport was definitely exciting.

 

Arrival and Week’s Beginnings

 It must have only been a few minutes after we arrived at the hotel that we met other Deaf friends in the lobby. There were folks from Kenya, Japan, India, and the United States! It was a very well mixed group and on tip of our variety we were meeting in Sri Lanka.

It must have been about 6 or 7:00PM by this time and we were quite jet lagged. I still needed to figure out where our meeting room was going to be and if all of the supplies were set up. This was an urgent task as our meeting would begin the next morning. So, I finally got all of the information I needed, had dinner, and then it was off to bed.

7:00AM rolled around quickly as we were now sitting down for breakfast. It really was an amazing hotel with an amazing view. What a great place to have a conference. I remember thinking that I might pay more at regular Marriott back in the U.S. just to look out at a parking lot but to have breakfast on a terrace overlooking the Indian Ocean… well… I couldn’t complain.Looking at the Indian Ocean

We started the Deaf Development group meetings at 9:00 that morning. Beginning with introductions of the various organizations and ministries, and their presentations about their international work. The day consisted of presentations and workshop type discussions on Bible translation methodology, Technology and distribution models, Scripture Use Models, and discussions on Deaf leaders within a hearing world (meaning how signers operate, manage, communicate, and partner with ministries within an oral hearing environment).

Now if you know anything about Deaf culture and how things operate we had meetings the rest of the week titled “Parking Lot Discussions”. This is simply an observation of the Deaf community and how information is usually shared and discussed. Conversations can carry on for a while in the Deaf world, and often times whether at Church, Deaf clubs, or other meetings the group will often end up still having their discussions in the parking lot even after the “official” meeting has ended. So any time a topic or idea was brought up that wasn’t on the meeting agenda it was moved to the Parking Lot discussion list. Then for the rest of the week the Deaf Development group simply worked through the list to attempt and cover as much as possible.

This was truly a wonderful time for these ministries to gather and discuss what is really happening in the Deaf world regarding translation and scripture use. It was a wonderful opportunity for networking and relationship building, but more importantly a time of fellowship and prayer.

 

Radical Requests for Immediate Impact

 We know that the Deaf are one of the largest most unreached and unengaged people groups in the WORLD. With only 2% exposure, and only 5% of Deaf Americans attending church at any time in the year. Now this is a people group who have long gone not only unrecognized but have also been misunderstood by the hearing/oral community. Their culture, their people, and their languages are the primary things that the Hearing/Oral culture have misunderstood.

It isn’t necessarily because of intended oppression or un-interest, but there has been a lack of education. You see, in the Deaf world there often times is a lack of understanding, because lack of communication leads to a lack of information and therefore you are left with a lack of understanding. This is largely why the Deaf are so unreached with the Gospel. This is also why the Hearing/Oral Community are so unaware, but make no mistake efforts are being made and sometimes we tend to fight against awareness. So we must make sure that as the needs of the Deaf and Sign Language community are presented that we open up our minds to accept awareness because it is then that change will take place.

It is this reason that myself and others have been fighting for the Deaf community to be recognized, and not only to be reached but that Deaf leaders be welcomed into places of leadership within the missions world. Because those that can best reach and educate are those from the Deaf and Sign Language Community. So this year we were finally given space to have a Deaf and Sign Language development group under the Forum of Bible Agencies International. However if you know anything about me this wasn’t going to be enough.

I had a couple of meals with some of the FOBAI leadership. I explained the needs, made the case, and introduced them to several Deaf leaders. It was after this (and much prayer) that I felt the Lord would bless our request. So myself, and a brother from Japan approached the board and CEO’s and asked that the FOBAI annual conference theme for 2016 be Deaf and Sign Languages. Meaning that the whole conference will focus in on the needs of the Deaf and Sign Language community. With workshops and presentations centered on Sign Language Bible translation, Scripture Use models, Deaf children’s ministry, Church planting within the Deaf community, Sending Deaf missionaries, and more.

This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to be recognized officially and have such an opportunity to impact and bring awareness to the many Bible ministries in the world.

Isaiah talks about the world falling apart, scoffers, and idolaters. He then records the Lord saying in 29:18-19

“In that day the deaf shall hear

the words of a book,

and out of their gloom and darkness

the eyes of the blind shall see.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,

and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel”. (ESV)

What an opportunity we have in this day and age for the Deaf to experience the Bible in their heart sign languages. To have access that is unprecedented to anything before. We rejoice and continue to rejoice as Deaf all over the world are obtaining fresh joy in the Lord!

 

Pray friends for the needs of the Sign Language community and for the Gospel going forth in the world. Be on the look out for my next Blog detailing my time in India and Hong Kong. Also be watching out for a Blog series that I will soon begin posting titled “My Deaf Heart”.

 

Until all the Deaf have seen,

J.R.

 

 

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