Deaf reached through story crafting

THAILAND (BP) -- It appeared to be just words in a book that some American visiting Thailand had given him. This Bible just wasn't working for Ball Lamphun. He wanted a god who talked to him, maybe even gave him some guidance. He couldn't find that in the words.

This Bible wasn't in his "heart language" of Thai Sign Language, so he gave up -- well, kind of. He made one final plea to God, "Speak to me," and waited.

Then Lamphun felt God prompting him to approach some strangers.

"Is he the one who will tell me about Jesus?" Lamphun thought to himself. Goose bumps ran up and down his arms in excitement as he asked the strangers. "Are you a Christian?"

The strangers turned out to be International Mission Board missionaries working with the Deaf in Southeast Asia. As they talked, the words from Lamphun's Bible went from a jumbled mess to visual truths. He could picture God's works and power through sign language.

Lamphun became so excited about finally understanding the Bible that he shared the stories with friends and came back for more. He wanted to learn how to translate the words into his own language.

"Before I was taught in sign language, I didn't believe that I could open up the Bible and understand. I think it is the same for all Deaf in Asia," Lamphun said. "They need to know the Bible is for them. They need to see the Bible in their own language."

There are more than 35.5 million Deaf worldwide, with 60 percent living in Asia. Most are not followers of Christ and Deaf leaders and Deaf churches are sparse. Jon Valjean,* an IMB missionary, said one clear reason for this is they don't have access to the Bible in their own language.

Story crafting

Deaf are oral learners, Valjean noted. They see things in pictures. So, the missionary makes words from the Bible into pictures so his friends can visualize and contextualize the stories. This approach is called "story crafting."

It's similar to an inductive Bible study but includes more learning by doing and actively engaging the Scripture through combining prayer, sign language, drawings and even acting.

Lamphun and five other believers meet with Valjean once a week to craft stories into a vivid three-dimensional story on the hands for Thais.

The 10-step story crafting process always begins with prayer and reading the Scripture passage from the Bible. Then, everyone draws a picture trying to depict the Biblical account as close as possible. There will be mistakes but this is the chance for leaders to discover more about influences and culture among those crafting the stories.

After the drawings are hung on the wall, the six read the story again. They pull out colored pencils and mark up the Bible text.

Each color represents a part of the lesson. They draw icons to represent the story next to the colored markings and begin to locate the story on a timeline. Once again, they draw a picture of the story using the details from the written Word. The goal is to achieve a drawing that faithfully represents the words of the Bible.

"It's important when you are crafting that you don't take away anything. The Bible is the authority, so you have to do that section of Scripture fully. You can't even take away one word. It all needs to be put down on the picture that you are crafting," Lamphun explained. "That's when you can start visualizing."

The group then acts out the story, remaining faithful to the final drawing. They figure out which signs are best to use and most descriptive, as well as how to dialogue and answer questions about the story. And each person practices, practices, practices.

The final stage is recording the story. These video clips are edited and used to refresh memories on how to tell the story. It's important for the story to be told the same way each time.

"It's kind of like putting together a movie -- you see how all of the characters, places and actions are interacting and incorporated in the story," Lamphun said. "When I craft I can visualize the scripture. We can see where Jesus is and what He did. That is so important to draw on because it helps the Deaf."

Before learning how to craft a Bible story, Lamphun didn't believe he could even open up the Bible and understand it. He said once he was taught in sign language, he realized the Bible was for him. Now, he wants to help others not only have the Bible come to life for them but teach them how to read it and craft stories.

"I want to go to other places and help spread the Word," Lamphun said. "What [the Deaf in Southeast Asia] wants is more Bible stories in their own language. When they hear the stories like this, they understand and their hearts understand, too."

You can help craft Bible stories into one of 200 different sign languages. Unfortunately, there is an insufficient number of Scripture stories using these different heart sign languages. Momentum for Deaf-led church planting must be accelerated and one way to help is through story crafting. Learn more about how you can help by going to http://storytogether.imb.org/#give.

*Name changed.

Susie Rain is an IMB writer living in Asia.
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