As a young boy, Suresh felt totally isolated in the midst of many people. He watched as his parents talked with each other, as his siblings played together, and as his schoolmates learned and grew around him. He often accompanied his mother to the market, a bustling center of animals, merchants, and families. But Suresh knew something was missing. Even in the midst of the India’s colorful liveliness, he could hear only one thing: silence.
Suresh belongs to India’s Deaf community of nearly 9 million. This community exists in virtual isolation, unable to participate in most forms of communication. Like most Deaf people worldwide, Suresh struggled to learn to read, as written language is based on sound. To Suresh, written language, even the language spoken by his own family, is foreign. Learning to read the language he had never heard meant he had to memorize each symbol in isolation from the sound it represents.
Suresh presents to the 900 strong crowd at the celebration for the Kerala Sign Language Scriptures
By the time Suresh reached adulthood, he knew great disappointment. Failure and frustration plagued his attempts to learn and communicate. Eventually a fellow Deaf man offered to introduce Suresh to a friend who could communicate perfectly. His interest piqued, Suresh asked where he could meet this perfect communicator. The fellow Deaf man then invited him to a Deaf Opportunity OutReach (DOOR) meeting in Kerala. The next day Suresh attended the DOOR gathering and met the perfect communicator, a man named Jesus.
Hungry to know Jesus and the good news of the Gospel more clearly, Suresh soaked in the teaching of the Deaf pastors at DOOR. He says, “They talked about how God created the world and God created man and woman, and for the first time, it was really clear! I understood, I believed, and I was saved.” Soon he found himself in their position: teaching other eager Deaf people about the One who speaks through deafness. After six years of teaching, Suresh accepted a DOOR request to begin a signed translation of the Bible. This was a huge request—it meant making visual recordings of signed Bible passages. Since many of the words in Scripture are not indigenous to Kerala’s spoken language, each video passage had to begin with signed definitions of new words.
The result of Suresh’s translation project is the first Bible released in Kerala Sign Language. Suresh and a team of seven other Deaf Kerala residents spent many years translating Scripture passages from the Hindi language into their signed language, which they recorded in DVD format. The recent celebration of the release of this DVD included a formal introduction to over 1,000 Deaf attendees. These eager attendees watched as Suresh demonstrated the DVD’s interactive menu and features, which include history lessons, maps, word explanations, and application lessons.
Suresh (top of stairs) with the Kerala Sign Language translation team
Suresh spoke of his apprehensions about taking on such a daunting task. He looked at his Deaf translation team and asked, “Have any of us graduated from a university? No. We don’t know how to edit. What about filming and videotaping? And even our understanding of the computer is very limited. This is going to be hard.” But by the joy evident in this dedication celebration, Suresh and his team, through the Lord’s grace, reached a goal that will have life-changing impact on those blessed by the product. “All of the work has been done completely by the Deaf,” says Suresh. “And who is this for? Is this for the hearing? No, it is for the Deaf. Yes! That is awesome!”
After Suresh finished speaking and demonstrating the DVD, a man named Aaron stood up to address the large, excited crowd. As a young man, Aaron decided to explore a local Christian church. But because of his difficulty communicating with people in the church, he simply became more disillusioned. “There was no one who could really interact with me in my own language,” he remembers. “There was no one who understood the meaning and who could explain it to me. And so what I did see was very confusing.” When Aaron heard about DOOR and the Kerala Sign translation project, he understood the Gospel for the first time as the message was signed to him in his heart language.
As Aaron stood in front of the expectant crowd at the dedication celebration, a smile of pure joy spread across his open face. He signs, “As I grew the word of God developed in my mind and I could hear.” Though his ears cannot, Aaron’s heart has heard the message. And he, along with Suresh and other translation team members, are excited to share the message with the hearing hearts of their Deaf brothers and sisters.
Photos by Elyse Patten
Download images from this story