Grasping the message of hope and salvation in the Bible is hard for many of us, even more so for those who cannot hear. Explaining the gospel to the Deaf is indeed, immensely challenging. Someone who is well acquainted with this is Dr Rocco Hough, who has been ministering to this community for the last 30 years and who is also involved in the translation of the Bible Society’s first-ever English Bible for the Deaf.
Whilst studying at Stellenbosch University to become a minister, Rocco accepted a position to help out at the De la Bat Dutch Reformed Church in Bellville, Cape Town.
“The Lord just told me, this is where I want to use you, this is where I'm calling you to. I'm very fortunate that it was a very strong calling because in the years to come there were some difficulties and troubles, but because I had a strong calling I could face it,” Rocco explains.
Working at a church for deaf people, meant Rocco had to translate every sermon and Bible study so that the members of his congregation could understand it.
“From the beginning of my ministry, deaf members asked me to help them understand the Bible. They also asked me to write a Bible for the Deaf, which I thought was impossible.
"The Deaf normally speak in Sign Language, they understand it much better. A written language is their second language, which they don't acquire very well. In order to help them understand the Bible, you've got to help them with all the concepts, all the words, all the idioms and all the language structures that they don't understand. This is quite a daunting task.”
Any Bible translation that the Bible Society undertakes is initiated by the churches in South Africa. After consultation, consent was obtained for the translation of a Bible for the Deaf in Afrikaans to go ahead. The translation team working with Rocco included a number of source-text experts working from the original Greek and Hebrew texts, a linguist as well as a number of deaf people. In 2007 the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf, “Die Bybel vir Dowes,” was published.
Soon after the Afrikaans Bible was published, people in diverse locations expressed the need for an English Bible for the Deaf. A translation team, once again under the auspices of the Bible Society of South Africa, embarked on this project in 2011. As difficult as the translation of the Afrikaans Bible for the Deaf was, the English version would prove to be even more challenging.
"We are now in our fifth year. In the process of translation we have about five or six phases. This includes source-language experts (the professors) who make sure that the text is translated according to the Greek and Hebrew. Then we have three groups of deaf readers who read the text and mark every word or sentence that they don't understand. The process also enables the team to clarify whether concepts assumed as understood, are in fact correct. An example to demonstrate this is: 'Jacob walks to the well’. Deaf readers may make the sign for 'ok' (as in, 'all is well') which is wrong. We will then make use of a footnote (on that specific page of the Bible) as well as an illustration to explain the concept of a well as a hole in the ground with water in it. In the Afrikaans translation we made use of 18 000 footnotes. In the English version we are limited to 60 000.
“We have a linguist who helps us to produce a good English translation, but adapted to help deaf readers, known as deaf-orientated English. The final step is sending it to more deaf reading groups for their response. Thus far the response has been very positive.
“To help deaf people understand the gospel, or let me rather say, to believe the gospel, is firstly very difficult because they don't understand concepts like salvation, election and grace. On the other hand, to believe the gospel, one needs to accept it like a child and in that regard, it is easier for deaf people to believe than hearing people, who sometimes have so many problems because they think it cannot be true. They have too many obstacles that can get in the way of simply believing. It is easier for deaf people to say, 'Wonderful, if the Lord loves me, and he has forgiven my sin, praise his name’.”
To find out more about the English Bible for the Deaf translation project visit www.englishbibleforthedeaf.co.za