The Love of God in Sign Language - Wycliffe Bible Translators (2022)

How one church in Japan is being the hands and feet of Jesus.

  • April 1, 2022
  • By: Jennifer Stasak
  • Asia
  • Japan
  • Japanese Sign Language

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The Love of God in Sign Language - Wycliffe Bible Translators (1)

In the backseat of our eight-passenger van, I was quietly contemplating all that I’d seen and heard during the day when a thought— a quiet one — stuck in my brain like humidity sticks to my skin in the middle of a Florida summer. As I watched the city lights blur past my window, I vocalized the thought: “I think I heard Jesus tell me today, ‘This is how church is supposed tobe.’”

Without turning around in his seat, a colleague said: “He told me the samething.”

Our team from Wycliffe USA had come to Yamagata, Japan, to meet with Japanese Deaf believers and learn their stories. We’d been in the Tokyo area earlier in the week, watching the ViBi (Visual Bible) team translate the book of Daniel into Japanese SignLanguage.

But when we arrived in Yamagata, the most surprising thing to me wasn’t the city’s cool weather or picturesque mountain views: it was the impact of the local Deafchurch.

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In the U.S., churches are often big buildings with crowds of people who gather on Sunday mornings. There are choirs and organs, communion glasses, offering baskets, podiums and stages, expensive sound equipment and state-of-the-art technology. People sit in pews or chairs and listen for an hour as a pastor tells them three (usually) alliterative takeaways from the sermon. They might attend Bible studies on Sunday mornings, send their children to “kid’s church” or meet with their church friends throughout the week in theirhomes.

(Video) Celebrating the American Sign Language Bible!

Sign Language Translation

You can help bring the hope of Scripture to Deaf people around the world by praying for the Japanese Sign Language project and other translation projects likeit.

Learn and Pray

That’s how church has always been for me, at least: show up, worship, maybe go out to lunch and then go home. Rinse, lather, repeat the next Sunday. There’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about church fitting seamlessly into my weekly routine; it’s often a much-needed break after a stressful work week or busy weekend. But that’s how I’ve always thought about church — as a fixed point in time on a Sunday and then another smaller, fixed point in time on a Wednesday night when I meet with my Bible study. Two events on mycalendar.

But I think Jesus always intended for church to be something more, something better than just a calendar event or a few hours carved out on a weekend. And when I met the Yamagata Deaf Christ Church congregation in Japan, I saw how church couldbe.

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BEYOND SUNDAYS

TheYamagata Deaf Christ Church is over 30 years old. It sits in the middle of a tiny, steep hill whose gravely road continues to wind upward into a small mountain and outlook that provides incredible panoramic views of thecity.

When you step inside the church itself though, you won’t find pews. Instead you’ll find tables arranged with padded folding chairs facing a small stage with a wooden pulpit. The carpet is pale pink, and there’s an entire wall of VHS tapes which the congregation never uses anymore. Everything from the carpet to the bookshelves reminds me of the first ever evangelical church I’d attended in the U.S., and I immediately feelnostalgic.

(Video) Sign Language Bible Translation

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Twofansbuzz and whir in different areas of the room because even though we’re in the mountains, it’s still hot and the afternoon sunlight streams into windows that frame the walls of the room. Some of the women fan themselves as they focus their attention on an old television set in the corner that’s playing a portion of the JapaneseBible.

But this isn’t Sunday morning service; it’s a Friday afternoon and almost a dozen of the congregants have gathered for a Bible study and prayer meeting.

The group sits around a circular table where there are freshly sliced apples, crisp and sweet, in a bowl for guests. More plates and bowls with food are crowded in the center of the table; novelty mugs with Peter Rabbit and Snoopy are filled with hibiscus tea made by Pastor Eiji Matsumoto’s wife, Kumiko. Slices of Japanese pumpkin (which tastes like a sweet potato) and pickles in containers are passed around as the groupconverses.

I don’t know what to expect, engaging with a Deaf church. I naively assume the Bible study and prayer meeting will be quiet. But the room is full of laughter as the small group dives into their fellowship. The Bible study officially begins with the group sharing praise reports but this group has already been meeting for an hour over lunch. They’ll meet for two hours to study Scripture and worship, and then they’ll continue to sit in the chapel and converse after Bible study hasended.

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The group signs worship songs and then then moves into a lively discussion about their passage, James 3:13-18. There are animated moments and times of misunderstanding as the group exchanges ideas of what it means to live purely and seek righteousness. Pastor Matsumoto, a kind, bespectacled man who leads the discussion, encourages the group to truly work out what Scripture means. At one point, he explains to the group that memorizing Scripture is good, but that it’s only effective when you understand and apply it for yourself. So he challenges each person to try and figure out, in their own words, what the passage issaying.

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Later,Iaskedsome of the congregants why the church is so important to them — why it’s necessary to meet together. A man named Tadashi signed: “We can help and encourage each other. Whatever we can do, we do it; and when someone doesn't understand or cannot do, we help them. … We have this place called church where we can help each other, and that's important forme.”

As I sit, mesmerized by the group’s discussion, I think about my own Bible study at home. We all grew up in different church backgrounds and don’t even realize, until we debate a passage or a verse’s meaning, how much of our past is ingrained in our understanding of God and Scripture. As my group discusses and debates words and meanings, we’re pulling out our hard copies of Scripture or switching between different versions of the passage inYouVersion.

Comparing my Bible study in the U.S. to this one in Japan, I realize that these men and women have never had the option to flip between different versions of Scripture. They still don’t have thatoption.

“I am someone who seeks to know who Jesus is,” a woman named Sayoko signed. “I have been saved. I learned that Jesus is for me and that I need him through the Bible and through preaching. So I can’t even imagine not going to church.” Truly, Sayoko, Tadashi and countless other Deaf in Japan would be very limited in their knowledge of Jesus if it wasn’t for the Deaf church and Scripture in signlanguage.

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THE LOVE OF GOD IN SIGN LANGUAGE

The Yamagata Deaf Christ Church brings Acts2:42-47 tomind:

(Video) No Longer Forgotten, Wycliffe Reaches Out to the Deaf with Sign Language Bible Translations

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved”(ESV).

I’ve referred to people I know through church as my “church family” and you probably have too. But that phrase takes on a whole new meaning as I witness a Sunday at the Yamagata Deaf Christ Church.

Women and men trickle through the church’s front door around 10 a.m., customarily slipping out of their shoes in the entryway, placing them delicately into cubbies and sliding their feet into slippers. They greet each other, smile and fill cups with coffee ortea.

I take my seat at the side of the room and watch with interest as a woman is guided into the church. Not only is she deaf but blind too. I learn that each week, members of the congregation take turns serving as this woman’s interpreter. It is Sayoko’s turn this week and she signs that she’s a little nervous, afraid she’ll mess up. But she takes the woman’s hands gently in hers to sign Pastor Matsumoto’s message about the prodigal son into herpalms.

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Pastor Matsumoto was actually born hearing but became deaf when he was little because of a fever. “I would sign at home but outside, I didn’t sign. [I’d] stay quiet. … When I went out shopping with my parents, I would communicate with them with my voice.” A lot of the Deaf church members shared similar experiences with me; they were told that they needed to speak in school, not sign. They were told that they had to read the Japanese Bible to learn about God. Imagine how people like Pastor Matsumoto felt, trying to prepare a sermon using a Bible he couldn’t truly understand.

“When I was preparing for my preaching before the JSL Bible, I would read the Japanese Bible and exegetical research books in Japanese. It would always stress me out and I [wondered] why. Preparing for Sundays and reading the Word of God should be something joyful to do,” he recalled. “But with the JSL Bible... I can understand what the Scripture says and I can truly enjoy watching and preparing for the message. There's no stress like I feel when I read the Japanese Bible andbooks.”

Pastor Matsumoto signed: “Through being in Deaf community and working for ViBi, I learned that signing is not something I should be ashamed of; rather it is something that I should be proud of and that I should be proud of my identity asDeaf.”

I’ve been a Christian since I was 12 years old, so I’ve heard the story of the prodigal son countless times, but tears form in the corners of my eyes as I watch Pastor Matsumoto sign about the incredible love of God. “His love is just so big,” he signs. “Incredibly big.” Pastor Matsumoto continues on, affirming that there is no discrimination in God’skingdom.

Everyone deserves to know God through hisWord.

HANDS AND FEET

After service ends, Kumiko and other women in the church rearrange the tables, set platters, and bring in salads, lemon bars, rice and a large pot filled with beef and potato stew. As I watch the flurry of activity, food and hospitality, I’m amazed that the congregation does this every week. “Not always with as much fanfare or food,” one woman signs to me. Sometimes, she explains, they bring their lunches from home or heat up cups of noodles in themicrowave.

As I sit at a table with two older women, we try our best to communicate using what little words I’ve picked up in Japanese Sign Language. Throughout our conversation, they tell me about the history of the Yamagata Deaf Christ Church. They tell me about how the congregants raised half the money they needed to purchase the building, while expats supplied the otherhalf.

(Video) A Vision for Transformation

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Mytablemates point out a man eating at one of the other tables in the room and then gesture to the pulpit and bookshelves. “He built them,” they sign and then tell me that he also crafted the beautiful wooden front door of the church. When I ask the women about the pictures I saw of children on their bulletin board, they tell me that the church sponsors Deaf children in the Philippines; they had even sponsored one child until he turned21.

A few church members meander home after lunch is cleaned up, but for some, lunch turns into late afternoon and then into early evening as people continue their conversations and help clean dishes in the church’s tiny kitchen. The remaining church members gather around one table and explain Japan’s train system to me and my colleagues. There is always food at the table, and they pass around bowls of freshly made popcorn and chips as they show us which lines to take and how to read the trainschedule.

And in between logistical conversations, Pastor Matsumoto and Kumiko continue to tell us about their church — about how they see one another as a family and how some of the congregants spend a few days each week helping a 73-year old woman who’s had a stroke and brain tumor learn Japanese Sign Language. She never went to school, but she wants to learn to study the Bible. So they visit often, offering their time andcare.

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The sun is already dipping low in the sky and we’ve finally figured out the train schedule. Pastor Matsumoto gathers the remaining church members and our Wycliffe USA team to determine where we all are going to dinner. Over pork cutlets, sticky rice, salads and dessert we learn even more about our new friends: their hobbies and interests, who among them are introverts, inside jokes and which one of them owns and rides a motorbike. (It was not who weexpected.)

We know we won’t see most of the congregants again, and I try not to let the older Japanese women who’ve treated us like their grandkids all weekend see my tears. They’ve taught me something I wouldn’t soon forget: the church is more than a building. It’s more than a placeholder on thecalendar.

We are the church.

Sign Language Translation

You can help bring the hope of Scripture to Deaf people around the world by praying for the Japanese Sign Language project and other translation projects likeit.

Learn and Pray

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FAQs

What is Wycliffe Bible Translators mission statement? ›

Wycliffe describes its mission as being to "Serve with the global body of Christ to advance Bible translation and work together so people can encounter God through his Word".

What denomination is Wycliffe Bible Translators? ›

Our team at Wycliffe Bible Translators is made up of people from many denominational backgrounds, and we are not affiliated with any specific denomination.

What does it mean to hear Gods word? ›

Sometimes it's a sense of peace or joy that covers your body in a moment of chaos. Sometimes it's wisdom in a situation. And sometimes God speaks to you for your, for what you're going through, sometimes He speaks to you for someone else, sometimes He just shares things that He wants you to pray about.

What religion did John Wycliffe believe in? ›

John Wycliffe (/ˈwɪklɪf/; also spelled Wyclif, Wickliffe, and other variants; c. 1328 – 31 December 1384) was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, biblical translator, reformer, Catholic priest, and a seminary professor at the University of Oxford.

What is the most important fact about John Wycliffe? ›

John Wycliffe is widely considered one of the medieval forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. His criticism of the practices and beliefs of the church foreshadowed those of later reformers. Wycliffe also directed a translation of the Bible into English.

What is the most accurate translated Bible? ›

The New American Standard Bible is a literal translation from the original texts, well suited to study because of its accurate rendering of the source texts. It follows the style of the King James Version but uses modern English for words that have fallen out of use or changed their meanings.

Is Wycliffe Bible Translators a good charity? ›

Wycliffe Bible Translators International Inc. has earned a 73% for the Accountability & Finance beacon. See the metrics below for more information.

What Bible did John Wycliffe use? ›

Wycliffe's Bible is the name now given to a group of Bible translations into Middle English that were made under the direction of John Wycliffe. They appeared over a period from approximately 1382 to 1395.
...
Wycliffe's Bible
Online asWycliffe's Bible at Wikisource
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How do you recognize God's voice? ›

If we are to recognize God's voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leading in our lives.

What is the voice of God called? ›

Originally, however, such Divine communication was also in the Hebrew called kol (voice) as is shown by the Biblical phrase "There fell a voice from heaven" (Daniel 4:28 [A. V. 31]); and occasionally in the Talmud it is briefly given as kol (voice).

What does God's voice sound like? ›

The Bible more often portrays God's voice as sounding ordinary and meek than as booming and thunderous.

How do you sign God's love? ›

Here are 5 simple ways to show God's love to others:
  1. Show God's Love by Listening.
  2. Show God's Love with Generosity.
  3. Show God's Love by Encouraging.
  4. Show God's Love with Acts of Kindness.
  5. Show God's Love by Praying for Others.
  6. It's Possible to Show God's Love to Everyone.

What is ASL sign for God? ›

To sign God, swipe your dominant hand in front of your head, your thumb touching your forehead, then pulling downward to your chest area. It's like one half of two praying hands. Alternatively, just doing the first part - touching the thumb of a flat open hand to the forehead, is enough to sign God in ASL.

What is the love in sign language? ›

To sign I love you in American Sign Language (ASL), point out your thumb and index finger to form an “L”. While keeping them extended, lift your little finger. Your middle and ring finger keep touching your palm. Finally, direct your hand towards the person you are talking to.

Was Wycliffe a hero or villain? ›

To Thomas Walsingham, Wycliffe is a villain, with “poisonous” teachings. His followers flocked to him only because it was to their own material advantage. They hoped to take the wealth belonging to the clergy.

What did the pope do to John Wycliffe? ›

In May 1377 Pope Gregory XI issued five bulls (public decrees) condemning Wycliffe's views. These decrees did not arrive in England until Christmas 1377, whereupon Wycliffe was arrested. He was subsequently released and then summoned to a meeting with Archbishop Sudbury and Bishop Courtney.

Did Wycliffe Bible include Apocrypha? ›

inclusion of Apocrypha

Even though the Wycliffite Bible (14th century) included the Apocrypha, its preface made it clear that it accepted Jerome's judgment. The translation made by the English bishop Miles Coverdale (1535) was the first English version to segregate these books, but it did place Baruch after Jeremiah.

Why is John Wycliffe called the Morning Star? ›

Wycliffe's life

Some have called him the “Morning Star of the Reformation” because he openly taught many of the things that Luther himself taught in the sixteenth century, 200–300 years later. He was an English Protestant Reformer.

What kind of person was John Wycliffe? ›

John Wycliffe was an English Protestant theologian in the 1300s known best for his role in translating the Bible into the common language. As a critic of the Catholic Church, Wycliffe is usually considered an early reformer.

What was the first language Jesus spoke? ›

Most religious scholars and historians agree with Pope Francis that the historical Jesus principally spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic.

What percent of the Bible is accurate? ›

Virtually unchanged (99.5% accuracy rate) over the centuries, the New Testament can be deemed reliable and accurate.

Which Bible do Catholics use? ›

The New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE) is a Bible translation approved for use by the Catholic Church, receiving the imprimatur of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1991.

Was John Wycliffe a critic of the Catholic Church? ›

Wycliffe challenged the church's right to money that it demanded from England. When the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church began, he publicly questioned the pope's authority. He also attacked indulgences and immoral behavior on the part of the clergy.

What Bible translation do most scholars use? ›

With regard to the use of Bible translations among biblical scholarship, the New Revised Standard Version is used broadly, but the English Standard Version is emerging as a primary text of choice among biblical scholars and theologians inclined toward theological conservatism.

What is the most accurate translation service? ›

DeepL Translate: The world's most accurate translator.

How did Wycliffe influence Christianity? ›

The corollary of Wycliffe's belief that all Christians should learn the faith for themselves was that Scripture needed to be translated into their own languages. His most important achievement was the first complete English translation of the Bible, issued from 1382.

How can I hear when God is speaking to me? ›

6 Tips on How to Hear from God
  • Position yourself close to God. Samuel set his bed up in the temple, “where the ark of God was” (v. ...
  • Find a place of regular service to God. In v. ...
  • Listen for God's voice. ...
  • When God calls, respond eagerly. ...
  • When God speaks, obey Him. ...
  • Read and study the Word of God.
15 Feb 2016

How does Holy Spirit speak to us? ›

The voice of the Spirit is described in the scriptures as being neither loud nor harsh, not a voice of thunder, neither a voice of great tumultuous noise, but rather as still and small, of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it can pierce even the very soul and cause the heart to burn.

What is a prophetic voice? ›

It centers around God's divine revelation to humanity and then becomes expressed through people who take up the message of God's truth and speaking truth into new contexts.

What is the voice of the Spirit? ›

The voice of the Spirit is universally available to all. The Lord said, “The Spirit enlighteneth every man [and every woman] … that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit” (D&C 84:46). He further says that “every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father” (D&C 84:47).

How do I hear Jesus voice? ›

How to practice listening prayer
  1. Come to God with your request for guidance. ...
  2. Wait in silence for God to speak for 10-12 minutes. ...
  3. Jot down any Scripture, songs, impressions, or pictures God gives you. ...
  4. Share how God spoke to you with your prayer partners and follow God's will.

What does Jesus look like? ›

For many scholars, Revelation 1:14-15 offers a clue that Jesus's skin was a darker hue and that his hair was woolly in texture. The hairs of his head, it says, "were white as white wool, white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace.”

What were the main ideas of John Wycliffe? ›

Wycliffe believed that the Bible, not the church, was the supreme source of religious authority. Against church tradition, he had the Bible translated from Latin into English so that common people could read it. The pope accused Wycliffe of heresy, or opinions that contradict church doctrine (teachings).

What is the mission discourse in the Bible? ›

The First Discourse was one on discipleship; In chapters 5-7 we read the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 10 is called the “Missionary Discourse.” This chapter includes instructions to the Apostles as they take the message of Jesus out beyond their intimate community.

What did John Wycliffe not agree with? ›

He lost some support in 1381 when he denied the doctrine of transubstantiation, that in the Eucharist the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Parliament condemned his teachings the following year, but he was allowed to retire to his parsonage at Lutterworth.

What is the most accurate Bible translation from the original text? ›

The New American Standard Bible is a literal translation from the original texts, well suited to study because of its accurate rendering of the source texts. It follows the style of the King James Version but uses modern English for words that have fallen out of use or changed their meanings.

Which Bible translation sells the most? ›

King James Version (55%)

What are the 3 missions of God? ›

At your baptism you were marked with oil as a sign that you are consecrated to God and anointed by the Holy Spirit. Your anointing also was a sign that you are joined to Christ and share in his threefold mission as prophet, priest, and king.

What are the 4 types of discourse? ›

Discourse may be classified into descriptive, narrative, expository, and argumentative.
...
Classes of Discourse
  • Descriptive Discourse. ...
  • Narrative Discourse. ...
  • Expository Discourse. ...
  • Argumentative Discourse.

What are the 3 mission of the Church? ›

Information. President Spencer W. Kimball outlined the three major elements of the mission of the Church: proclaim the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead.

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1. Missions Update - Spangler Family of Wycliffe Bible Translators - November 13, 2022
(Glendale Christian Church)
2. Dr. Charles Telfer Explains the Work of Wycliffe Bible Translators
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3. God Speaks My Language - Part 2
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4. The Bible in Every Tongue: A 'God-Sized' Mission - CBN.com
(CBN News)
5. Danny and Ariel Rorabaugh - Wycliffe Bible Translators
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6. World Mission with Wycliffe Bible Translators
(Headington Baptist Church)

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