Response to “Back to Zero” and my reply


Hi Mark,

Perhaps this is heretical, so if it is, forgive me.

It seems to me that you are at a place where you need to step back and take a hard look at what the Lord has been doing in your life over the past few years, and at the heart of the Japanese deaf and determine whether the Lord has been preparing you and them, for something different.  If they are hungry and thirsty for the Word, the Lord will make it available to them, if it is secondary, He will offer it to others who crave it.  Where is the craving, do you have a sense for that?   Is it in China, Africa?  What has the Lord been speaking to your heart about?  Don’t just say to yourself: “I’m discouraged, so I am imagining other possibilities”, of course that could be true, but you have been faithful through many discouragements, you are not a person who gives up.  Maybe you have been prepared for a transition to something new, where you will be more effective and strategic.  Sometimes when a key person leaves, those who have depended on him to carry the load begin to realize that this is their baby and they need to nurture and grow it or it will die.  As long as it is your passion, it may not really become theirs.

.  .  . 

RESTING in His wisdom and power,

Person A

My reply:


I’m all for heresy!! (At least this kind.) And I’ve been giving serious thought to your post. The parable of the fig tree came to mind—the one about giving it another three years (it is one year, actually, in Luke 13, but three is what came to mind . . .) and digging around the roots to see what can happen before cutting it down. Of course, I wouldn’t be cutting anything down, but . . .


On the other hand, I’m working on a United Bible Societies task force for SL (sign language) Bible translation, and just finished up my task of summarizing all the SL Bible translations in progress around the world.  I see places like Finland and Denmark starting translation work with core Deaf (signing) populations of 4,000, and then I see Japan, where the absolutely smallest figure I’ve ever heard for the signing community is 100,000 (usually you hear between 180,000 and 315,000), and I see the outreach possibilities if the community here were to come to Christ and be mobilized to reach the Deaf of Asia, and I see the quality of the work that we are doing now after 13 years and the resource it could be to other sign language projects throughout the world—especially the kind of signing that Toyoshima was starting to do—and it just seems like a huge blow. The sign language translation world needs to see a model of what can be done if we want people to be willing to fund SLBT projects, and I think we’re as close to that here as anywhere.


The timing is so ironic, because I just made a request to add a $3,000,000 project for ViBi as one of WorldVenture’s strategic initiative fundraising ventures. Our Asia Director asked what it would cost to finish the whole Bible, I said "give me $3M and we can finish in 10 years," and he basically said “ask for it.” (Not that anyone has it sitting somewhere to give, its basically permission to find it.) Ironic, yet on the other hand, if we had the $3M in hand right now, this whole thing would be playing out quite differently. If we could hire an assistant to work with him, I think Toyoshima would take the job.


So, Japan has the Deaf linguistic and cultural resources, and the possibilities, but the churches are entrenched and for the most part not open to new ways of doing things, even if it’s a full, somewhat traditional translation (as opposed to chronological Bible storying). Other places are hungry, and open, and looking for new ways, but the new ways, as I see them playing out, don’t include giving the Deaf community a full Bible in their language, but just enough to do some basic evangelism and discipleship, with no plan to go beyond that. The idea of Deaf theologians being a vital part of the Deaf church, not just learning simple standard theology, but thinking Biblically vis-à-vis the Deaf community is not even on the horizon. 


Anyway . . . this is why I think Bible translation is important, and why I want so badly to show that it CAN be done, if people want to badly enough and the funding can be found.


This has become a longish post—I really only set out to say I got your post and appreciated it, and was thinking through the important questions you asked. So I started thinking, and writing, and this is where it led me. So far. Still thinking.


Thank you



About Mark and Mary Esther Penner

Mark works as an adviser and resource to a Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project that plays a key role in the worldwide sign language Bible translation movement. Mary Esther founded a non-profit organization that partners with local communities and organizations to collect, refurbish and send wheelchairs throughout Asia.
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