Sombat Apichai understood only 50% of the Thai Sign Language interpretation of the sermon at his church in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The sermon was translated into what is known as word signing, which is in Thai word order and different from Thai Sign Language making the translation choppy. To complicate things further Thai religious vocabulary is hard to understand even for hearing Thais.
Sombat and his wife, Alisara, said Deaf Christians often feign understanding in mixed congregations of hearing and Deaf Christians because there isn’t usually time to ask questions and if there is an opportunity to ask, there aren’t many hearing church members who are able to communicate the real meaning in Thai Sign Language.
As a result Deaf Christians are often unable to truly connect or intimately worship God because they don’t fully understand and are never discipled. They don’t really have a way to contribute or volunteer at church. They feel disconnected and isolated from the hearing members of their church.
Then Sombat and Alisara met International Mission Board workers Victor and Madeline Hawthorne, who invited them to Story One, a new church for the Deaf. The Hawthornes introduced them to Bible stories in Thai Sign Language.
Sombat and Alisara started attending a camp the Hawthornes hosted that taught Deaf Christians how to interpret Bible stories in Thai Sign Language.
Believers at the camp were empowered to dissect Scripture and understand it for themselves. The Hawthornes helped with Old Testament background and context as they crafted stories.
The members sit in a circle so they can all see each other as they sign. Their core group of six Christians in their 20s and 30s alternate in their roles. Each week one member is the storyteller and another member performs the dialogue.
The process is time-consuming and difficult but empowering.
“When I joined the Story One church it was the first time that I felt like I was equal in God’s eyes to a hearing person and I was able to, for the first time, serve in a church without fear,” Alisara said.
They now have a vibrant church that is Deaf-led, with equal participation and shared leadership.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Names changed for security reasons. (IMB)
How to pray
• Pray Story One church will continue to be a thriving, vibrant church sharing the gospel of Christ with the Deaf Thais around them.
• Pray more Deaf missionaries will be sent out among the Deaf communities in the U.S. and around the world. (TAB)