Signing the Word

by Ross Millar

During Labour Weekend in 2013, deaf people from all over NZ gathered at Laidlaw College. This was the first Bible Storytelling workshop in their own language: NZ Sign Language. The workshop, the culmination of a lot of preparation, was led by the Deaf. There were also two interpreters who helped, and Ross Millar, who knows some NZSL, from Wycliffe NZ. About a dozen participants attended and several people who are training to be interpreters were cooks for the weekend. For months before, there had been mainly face-to-face meetings with leaders, patiently organised by interpreter Julie Coxhead and her husband, Peter.

Deaf applause

Deaf applause

Our storytelling workshop manual is 60 pages and packed with stories and information. However, English is a foreign language to the Deaf. So the manual was cut down to 16 pages including lots of pictures.

One of the Bible stories told over the weekend was the Healing of Ten Lepers. Some interesting questions came out:

What does leprosy look like? The Deaf used a sign showing blotchy skin with a facial sign like “Yuck”. Face shapes are very important in sign languages, possibly making up a third of all signs!

What’s the difference between a priest and a Pharisee? Both begin with P and are religious people. The signs are very similar and at one point someone signed, “Go show yourself to the Pharisees.” After discussion, people found out that they were actually different groups.

Fijian Leader, Koronawa, tells a story

Fijian Leader, Koronawa, tells a story

Where is Samaria? When the Deaf tell a story it is important to set up places in ‘sign space’. Ross found a map to show how Samaria lies between Galilee and Jerusalem.

What is a Samaritan? Samaritans were Jews who were not accepted. This made a lot of sense to the Deaf. The Samaritan leper was doubly rejected, as some of the Deaf who are Christians also feel doubly rejected, but Jesus accepts even the outcasts.

The workshop ended with a performance of the stories to an audience in the Laidlaw Upper Room with about 150 people attending! We are so thankful to those who helped bring some of God’s Word to a community often overlooked, but who are hungry to know more of His Word in the language they understand best. We pray that this ministry will continue and grow.


Return to Living Words July 2015


John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word

Verse for today

You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.