Year End Report

Mark Penner: Sign Language Bible Translation

Uiko continued as the lead translator this year, finishing the gospel of John in September, and then starting in on Exodus. Though she encountered opposition and health problems, and is (like all of our staff) underpaid, she has shown marvelous determination. Her work on the gospel of John was very well received, and her work on Exodus is even better. Pray for her arm pain, pray for her eyes, and pray that she will continue to forge ahead with new ways to improve the translation.

Mr. Hori, the Deaf person being trained to take charge of checking translation, started out 2013 handling more and more responsibility, allowing me and another translation consultant, Yuki, to focus more on other work. But in April Mr. Hori ran into major health problems and had to cut back his workload dramatically. Though he is on the mend and taking on more translation work bit by bit, he still needs your prayer for full recovery. Yuki has now taken on other Asia-wide responsibilities so I am back to doing more of the daily translation checking.

Linguistics: When I started studying for an MA in linguistics at the SIL program with University of North Dakota, I never thought it would take until 2013 to finish. Attending summer courses in 2006 and 2007, with distance studies in between, the coursework was finished by 2008, and I thought I was almost done. But then came a series of crises, and the “day job” (translation) took almost all my time. And because so little work is available in JSL, gathering data for the thesis proved to be a major challenge. This summer, though, the thesis was finally finished, submitted, and approved just in time to meet the seven year deadline.

The program offered a tremendous learning experience, but I am even more thankful for the doors it opened. Connections at UND opened doors into the world of Bible translation that are continuing to bear fruit both in Japan and Asia/Pacific. Then last February, I got to present a piece of my research at a linguistics conference in Hong Kong, attending with Uiko and Yuki. We met Deaf students from all over Asia, and linguists from around the world. Uiko, in particular, saw it as a pivotal point of her growth as a translator. Through the research she encountered, she began to see how to accommodate her translation to various segments of the Deaf population. Work and study with linguists in Japan also increased as a result of the trip, and she continues to grow as a translator.

A brilliant new smart-phone app we thought was right around the corner kept getting delayed. We were hoping to have it available late spring, and then mid-year, and then, just as we thought we were ready to release it, the blow fell. Since we have no official incorporation filed with the government, Apple was not able to approve our app. This app, which we only have now in prototype, is a way to deliver the Bible to Deaf people more easily than ever. With it, they can jump to any verse right away, quickly switch to fast-forward or slow motion, bookmark favorite passages, and even make video notes to attach to their video Bible, much like “writing” in the virtual “margin.” So you can imagine our disappointment at the delay. It looks like there is finally a way through the impasse, but do pray that this roadblock, too, will finally fall, and that many more will see God’s Word in their own language.

APSDA:  The Japanese leaders at the Sign Language Bible translation project have taken leadership roles in the Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association (APSDA.)   They have the ambitious goal to meet the Sign Language Bible translation needs for all of Asia and the Pacific.   They have made several visits to various SE Asian countries, and it’s exciting to see that they have caught the vision and are spearheading plans for the future.

Thank you for your support and prayers for us, and for the Deaf of Japan, and now for the Deaf of Asia.

Mary Esther Penner: Wheelchairs of Hope

Short Version:

  1. Transition of Wheelchairs of Hope leadership to Japanese director
  2. Japanese Sign Language Bible translation team work
  3. Summer Institute of Linguistics work

Wheelchairs of Hope

After stepping functionally into the role January 1, Mr. Tani, a Japanese Christian businessman, officially became the director of Wheelchairs of Hope at our annual meeting in June.  I continue working with the volunteers on Tuesdays, and handle other jobs (like the Christmas celebration) when asked and when able.  The highlight for 2013 was Mr. S’s confession of faith and baptism.  Please pray for his walk of faith, and for others who are moving toward Christ but have not yet made a public confession.

ViBi   -The Japanese Sign Language Bible translation work

There are a variety of non-linguistic tasks that need to be cared for in a Sign Language Bible translation project.  It was a privilege to assist ViBi and Mark by picking up the pieces especially when English was necessary.  The Sponsor a Verse campaign  ( was created to help raise funds.  We praise God for the $25,000 that came in through this effort. Even with those new funds, though, there was not enough for the team to work 5 days a week, even at their substandard pay. Please pray for funds to pay the workers properly (Scripture talks a lot about that, and its something I feel strongly about). Even more, pray for enough funding to hire a second team so the translation work can be finished by 2030.

SIL  -Summer Institute of Linguistics 

Last year, SIL’s Sign Language Asia-Pacific director invited me to join the team as a resource consultant for cross-cultural issues. We all know that it’s better to have Deaf leaders and translation consultants moving the Sign Language Bible translation projects forward. To facilitate that, SIL is seeking to create/collect materials to train Deaf teams to take the lead. My part is cross-cultural training resources; collecting materials and figuring out what will best enable Deaf teams to deal with cross cultural issues they face.  Please pray for me to work efficiently while also listening carefully with discernment to what the Deaf say they need, and also to listen to the direction of God’s Spirit.

Thank you for caring.  As you know the Deaf people are the largest unreached people group in the world.  Of the estimated 400 sign languages in the world, only 70 have a Bible translation in process, and only 20 of these have even 1% of the Bible translated. Also, there is not one single sign language anywhere in the world with a completed Bible.  “No other group in the world of similar size lives under such “Scripture Poverty.”  For more information check out the January/February 2014 issue of Mission Frontiers

Thank you for praying.  Thank you  for your financial support.  It is a privilege to partner with you so the Japanese Deaf will have God’s Word in their own language.


Mary Esther Penner


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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