Jamal didn’t always see eye to eye with his Christian friends. But despite their different beliefs about God, they shared a common bond — they all were deaf.
Like most deaf children, Jamal faced communication barriers, both in his community and in his family. So when he started attending Tanzania’s Buguruni School for the Deaf, friendships developed naturally, regardless of religious backgrounds.
However, by the time Jamal reached adulthood, his zeal for his own belief system had deepened.
“I was very proud of my identity,” he signed, “to the point of despising everyone [whose beliefs differed from mine].”
Even so, his interactions with Deaf Christians continued. One reason was Jamal’s involvement in Deaf advocacy efforts. This led him to begin participating in community testing organized by the Tanzanian Sign Language Bible translation team.
At those sessions, Jamal and others would watch sign language Scripture translations on video, then comment on the clarity and naturalness of the translations. Although Jamal was moved by the videos, they mainly stirred up questions — especially when it came to the divinity of Jesus.
Enlightened by the Word
Eventually Jamal decided to take his questions to members of the translation team.
“I told them that I couldn’t find any place in the Bible where it says that Jesus was God,” he signs.
The team was happy to help Jamal. They sat down with him and immediately started sharing different Scripture videos in Tanzanian Sign Language. As Jamal encountered Scripture verses that point to Jesus’ divinity, something incredible happened.
“At first it seemed like I was blind or covered by a spiritual dark veil — but then I began to see,” he signed. “The words of the Bible had come to life.”
After that experience, Jamal became even more involved in the Tanzanian Sign Language project. Now he volunteers his time to advance the Bible translation effort, promoting it in the community and at various events.
But more importantly, Jamal has been baptized as a believer in Christ. He has even changed his name to Joel, which in Hebrew means “the Lord is God.”
The Cost of Believing
The decision to follow Jesus, however, has come with a cost. After people learned Joel had abandoned his former religion, he lost his job. Many of his relatives were displeased as well. Still, Joel has hope for the future and prays that one day everyone in his family will be accepting of his new faith.
“I thank God for revealing the truth to me,” he signed. “And I thank the Tanzanian Sign Language team for their support, care and love.”
Adapted from a story at wycliffe.org
Related: Peace River Sign Language project