Last Sunday, more than 110 million viewers tuned in to watch one of the biggest sporting events in the world—Super Bowl 50 with the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.
The Super Bowl ended with what seemed to be one clear winner and one loser. But there were millions of other Americans who, once again, lost.
They are the ones who communicate in American Sign Language. As the national anthem was sung by Lady Gaga, Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning deaf actress, gave her beautiful rendition of this most patriotic song in American Sign Language. It's sad, though, that only a few seconds of it were seen.
It seems only fitting that after the success the National Association of the Deaf has had in getting Netflix and iTunes to provide captions and subtitles for deaf individuals to be able to watch movies, something like signing the performance of the national anthem at one of our country's largest public gatherings would be an awesome sight to see and experience, as well as important to the deaf community.
Whatever reason the media uses to explain this away, it comes down to the simple fact that they probably didn't see any value in it and chose not to show it.
Several years ago, the Deaf Bible Society team spoke with people at a well-known ministry that holds large crusades. The crusades are streamed live. We were so excited to find that they offer an interpreter at the event—so we proposed that they should also live stream the interpreter, so that deaf from around the country could tune in and learn of the salvation message. We were told that it would cost too much and would take too much time to accommodate such a small part of the community. This was frustrating but not unusual coming from a group unfamiliar with working with the deaf.
Deaf Bible Society believes that the best way to engage deaf communities with the Scripture is to provide access to the Bible in their heart sign language. We understand that communication is vital. A breakdown in communication results in a loss of information, leaving people without knowledge or understanding. The deaf are considered one of the largest unreached people groups in the world because we have not taken the initiative to make the gospel available to them in their heart sign languages and in a way they can efficiently engage with it and share it.
The challenge for Deaf Bible Society is that we lack the resources necessary to make this happen. We need to help the media and other ministry organizations understand the value—transforming the lives of the deaf. It is not unlike the communities that were colonized or enslaved; people prohibited from education because "an educated man is a free man." Historically, governments kept people down by creating a breakdown in communication and prohibiting education.
Showing the signed rendition of the national anthem was easy, inexpensive and desired by the community. If this simple and easy resource is not made available, what happens to the more challenging situations? Those challenging situations are much more critical than the opening of the Super Bowl—they involve the eternal lives of people.
Deaf Bible Society believes it is the right of every deaf person to have access to the Bible in their heart sign language—a language they communicate in effectively so that they can decide the relevance for themselves. Whatever your religious views are of the Bible, as a literate person, you have had the opportunity and choice to read or not to read it; to engage with it or not engage with it; and decide what you need for your own spiritual benefit.
The same lack of understanding that the media had with showing the signed rendition of the national anthem has infiltrated the church at large. We allow ourselves to be persuaded that sign language Bible translation is difficult, expensive, hard to understand and, ultimately, not valuable.
However, if we truly believe the Great Commission, Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations in Matthew 28, then we must agree that all nations includes all deaf people. It isn't left to us to determine which people groups are worthy of the message, but it is left to us to take this worthy message to all people groups.
J.R. Bucklew is the president of Deaf Bible Society.
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