When Renca Dunn talks about having the Bible in her own language for the first time, she emphasizes the adjectives. In English, she has no problem understanding the people, places, and things of Scripture. But in her own language, the nouns vibrate with life and emotion.
“The clapping trees. The singing birds. The dancing meadows,” Dunn says. “The persistent Esther. The revengeful Saul. The weeping Magdalene. Most of all, our loving Jesus.”
With the translation of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel in the fall of 2020, Dunn and 3.5 million other deaf people finally have the complete Bible in American Sign Language (ASL). It’s been a long time coming. The translation has been in the works since 1981, when Duane King, a minister in the Independent Christian Church, realized that English was not the heart language of deaf people in America. ASL was.
King, who is a hearing person, started learning to sign after meeting a Christian couple in 1970 who didn’t come to church much because they couldn’t understand what was going on. He and his wife, Peggy, were moved to meet this need and started a church and a mission for the deaf near one of the nation’s leading deaf schools in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Then, after years of church meetings, small groups, and Bible classes, the Kings became convinced it wasn’t enough to sign the English Bible; the Bible needed to be translated into ASL.
“Most hearing people don’t understand how difficult it is to learn to read what you cannot hear,” Duane King said in 2019. “Deaf people rely so much on their eyesight that they want everything to be tangible–they want to be able to see everything. This sometimes makes it harder …
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