Luke 2 in their own language for the very first time !

This week we are glad to be under studio lights again.  The Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project will record Leviticus 1-16 and Luke 1-6!  We are very excited.

For the first time ever,  the Japanese Deaf people will have Luke 2 in their own language!  Pastor Matsumoto is very happy and asked for an early draft so he could begin planning his Christmas message on the 25th based on Luke 2, a first for him and his church.

However, there are some obstacles.

Please pray for:

  • the on-camera signer is having some problems with a swollen eye and reaction to the make up
  • Mark and Hori to have the concentration and attention to detail necessary during this week as they check the signing as it is being recorded in the studio
  • the makeup artist–every day this week the make up/hair needs to be seamless
  • camera/tech/lighting man–the look needs to be seamless all week
  • the equipment to hold up

Rejoice with us:

  • the team is energized and excited.  When these portions are make available later this month the Japanese Deaf will have 26% of God’s Word in their own language!
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Weakness and the Power of God


my son, and a beautiful woman . . .


This is my son, Daniel. He lives in a group home in California.  He is unable to talk, unable to walk, unable to care for even his most basic needs–he does not even swallow. I live a very long ways away. Yes, I miss him, very much.

He is able to attend Calvary church because caregivers take him and because the church welcomes and “makes room” for him. Caregivers change out frequently, and this past Sunday, the annual baptismal service, a beautiful woman I have never met accompanied him.

Here is the story I heard from my friend:

 I looked over and noticed the woman was crying during the service, obviously moved by the testimonies.   As they were baptizing an invitation went out for anyone else who wanted to be baptized to come forward.  Next thing I know Cheryl was leading the woman up to the baptism area.  I could hear her worrying about Daniel but Cheryl reassured her saying, “I will watch him”.  The pastors talked to the woman, she was supplied with shorts and a tee shirt, she gave a brief testimony and was baptized.

My son Daniel still lives in a group home.  He is still unable to talk, walk, or care for even his most basic needs. I still live a very long ways away. . . .

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Thai Sign Language Gospel of Mark

dad91659-7d55-4b6a-bdd9-63cbd8d6429d.jpgThank you for praying!

The team made great progress during Mark’s recent trip to Bangkok to consult on the Thai Sign Language version of the Gospel of Mark.

The hours were long.  After finishing up the day’s work at the office with the team, Mark headed back to the hotel to check that day’s new translation work.  He managed to stay one step ahead (mostly), and the team made good progress.

Last February, they spent two weeks working through chapters 1 and 2, and with lots of work by Skype afterward, just made the March 26 deadline for publishing. This trip, only three months later, the team tackled chapters 3-6, more than twice as much material. They showed tremendous growth in both translation skills and workflow. With better pre-checking by the team the translation Mark checked had far fewer issues that needed addressing.

Another huge step forward–the team began using a video cueing system (adapted from the Japanese Sign Language Bible project.)  The signer follows the video, signing what she sees rather than relying completely on memory. This reduces the memory load on the signer, which allows her to give more focus to expression. It also allows for more fine-tuning of the translation. Small portions the team wants to fix can be recorded exactly as they want. The fixes get edited into the cueing draft without changing anything else. Signing speed is also closer to normal. In some of the earlier work, you could almost see her trying to remember what came next, or where the fix was, and this slowed the signing down.

Mark’s load is lighter too, with checking of followup drafts going much more quickly. When working from memory, new mistakes sometimes cropped up when old mistakes got fixed. Now everything that doesn’t need changing stays exactly the same as before. Praise God with us, and pray as they soon encounter the ultimate test of their new skill–the final recording session.

Prayer requests:

  • For the final recording, pray that the signer will have the support she needs to sign naturally and accurately.
  • Pray that the resource person who is away this summer will have fruitful studies, and that the team will function well in her absence.
  • Pray that people and churches will begin to develop a vision for how to use the translation. There are only two chapters published so far, but it’s not too soon to start.
  • Pray for the timing of the next trip. There needs to be enough time for the team to prepare but we also want to keep the momentum going.6e083cb0-bfd2-41a9-8a60-bd9771161693.jpg
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An important question

Why is the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project hiring a non-believer?

We love getting questions. When people across the world are “striving with us in their prayers to God for us” and doing all they can to get the Word out,  questions are bound to arise. We just got word of a serious concern that others might also have. Here is the question and our reply:

The question:
We are very concerned that you would hire an unbeliever to work in translation, or in any part of the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation program.  In marriage sometimes when a believer marries an unbeliever the unbeliever comes to the Lord- that is only sometimes and it is a compromise to be sure.  It is hard to imagine that it is God’s plan to bring in an unbeliever and the unequal yoke that comes with him.

I have hesitated to say anything but I hate to see the blessing of the Lord affected by compromise.  We will pray for the salvation of the person involved, but also that the Lord will protect the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project from compromising.

The reply:
Thank you for mentioning this. I’m glad you care, glad for all you do to help, and especially thankful that you let us know your concerns. This was a careful decision on our part, and I hope that writing out some of what was behind it will help put your heart at ease.

1) If we want to have a translation in the language of the non-Christian community, non-Christians need to be involved at some level. Our direction has been to use common language (like the original writers of scripture used common-use Greek) and avoid the special lingo of the church as much as possible. In the Japanese Deaf community, church people can understand the common language, but non-church people cannot understand church language (and I sometimes wonder how much church people understand their own specialized vocabulary.) We have always involved non-Christians in the checking process. Involving them also in the translation process has proven beneficial as well.

2) We hired the person for a job. This is not a church membership, and though there is a contract, it doesn’t seem like a partnership either. Granted, in a small “company” like this, relationships are close, but in general, I don’t see that Christians who run businesses only hire other Christians. They want the person that can do the job well. (Several people have actually come to faith through their involvement in the translation process.)

3) The JSL Bible translation team has multiple ways of checking the translation, and is ultimately responsible for the final result, not the individual translators involved.

4) Of course, with Sign Language translations, the face is part of the translation, the “font,” so to speak. The board of directors’ decision is that the face will be either a Christian or a non existing person, using video magic that hides the identity. (This is not possible yet but desperately needed, especially in countries where having your face on the Bible could get you killed. Pray that those working on the technology can get some traction.)

5) Involving non-Christians is common practice in Bible translation for minority groups. Sometimes there are no Christians in a target language when translation is started, or even if there are a few, they are not translators. One translation consultant says that the best translation he ever checked was done by a non-Christian.

6) We do need the blessing of God, and as Christ-in-us people, certainly do not want to compromise God’s character in any way. But God is radically open to rebels, sending rain on the righteous and unrighteous, sun on the evil and the good, and (scandalously, in that culture) running to meet the prodigal even before hearing his confession. So opening our hearts to not-yet-Christians who are created in the image of God might seem dangerous, but I think it is also God-like.

7) Also on the topic of God’s blessing, I think we do see evidence that God is blessing our decision to include non-Christians in the translation process.

Some of our leanest years when the project was in the most danger were when we had a very fervent (and very inflexible) Christian as translator. He lost us years of work at a substantial expense.

Our best years have been since we hired our present lead translator. She worked in Bible translation as a non-Christian, assisting the then lead translator for at least a year and a half before becoming a believer. After becoming a disciple, she continued working in the background for another year before taking courage to put her face on the Bible. She has grown tremendously, and has now gone on to become project director. Her influence outside Japan is also growing. Pray that God will continue to grow her into the image of Christ.

I’m pretty sure there are others that share your concern and just haven’t said anything, so after you read this to understand where we’re coming from, it would also be good to hear what in our thinking doesn’t ring true. We are part of a much larger community of co-laborers, and want to be able to explain what we’re doing and why in ways that make sense to others in that community.

Thanks again for sharing your concerns with us,


They wrote back to Mark’s reply:

Thanks for taking the time to help us understand.  It is absolutely necessary that unbelievers can understand and make sense of the words being used and checking with them as you have done is essential.  The safeguards you have in place are good and I guess we just needed to know these things.   Your explanations are right on.

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A Letter from Sunday:

It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Tokyo. The sharp scent of the plum blossom says spring is just around the corner!
Last night Uiko was here for supper and Bible study, and her mother came along for the first time.  Talking to Uiko, I asked how it was going (you know they are working on Leviticus) and she said it all gets rather confusing.  There is so much repetition— the offering (as a noun), and the offering (as a verb), and the offer-er (the person doing the offering), and the offering stand (how they refer to the altar in Japanese Sign Language).  But she smiled, you could tell she loves it; Leviticus points to Jesus.

Mark too is enjoying the time in the Torah.  He said to tell you: “now we’re plunging into Leviticus, amazed at what we are finding in the nitty-gritty, bloody details of redemption, thanksgiving, and fellowship. So much of the background knowledge that the New Testament takes for granted will soon be available to Deaf people–for the first time ever in any Sign Language. Thank you for your part in making this possible.”

Mark will be leaving on Sunday to go to Bangkok for two weeks to work with the Thai Sign Language Bible translation group there.  He’s checked the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, but there is still much more for him to do.  Please pray he will have the quick mind necessary to function in Thai Sign Language and conduct the checking face to face with the team.  Please pray for his physical strength as he goes from Tokyo February to temperatures there in the 90s.

With our love and gratefulness,
Mary Esther

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Wheelchairs of Hope: A Quick Look at 2015

Wheelchairs of Hope sent two 20 foot containers last year.  One to a partner in the Philippines and one to Thailand.  Mary Esther also made trips to Myanmar and Cambodia to visit partners.  Our prayer requests for this next year is that God will open doors for us to send a container to Cambodia Ministries for Christ and that more project volunteers here in Japan will make decisions to become followers of Jesus.  These are both big challenges.  The Cambodian system is fraught with corruption and so it was a wonderful surprise and an unexpected answer to prayer when Mrs. Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister’s wife, came by to visit and picked up four wheelchairs to take with her to Cambodia for us, and of course she cleared customs without any trouble!  God answers in amazing ways.

Just the other day, the volunteers in Japan celebrated another milestone—they finished cleaning and preparing the 2,000th wheelchair. As most of the volunteers are not-yet-Christians, pray that many will be drawn to Christ and be able to celebrate a whole new kind of milestone—the eternal kind

With Thanksgiving for His Glory,

Mark and Mary Esther

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JSL Bible: What Happened in 2015, Opportunities for 2016

Our deepest thanks to our support team for all each of you did this year to move the JSL (Japanese Sign Language) Bible translation forward. Your partnership was a vital part of seeing the Living Word transforming Deaf communities throughout Japan.

Momentum is growing. Last month Mark sat with an elderly Deaf man who for years never saw the use of a Bible in his own language, Japanese Sign Language. The “real” Bible in a “real” language (written Japanese) on “real” paper was all he would consider. As he got older, though, he found he didn’t have the energy to struggle through the written Japanese. Reluctantly, he started to use the JSL Bible app. You should have seen his face! “I am amazed! I can understand things I never got before in 40 years with the written Japanese Bible.” Now he is not just “covering for his energy limits.” He is excitedly exploring the Bible in ways he only wishes he could have done 40 years ago. And telling his friends about the JSL Bible!

A quick look at 2015

• Exodus translation completed.
• Titus translation completed.
• Ephesians translation completed.

This spring, we signed an agreement with Deaf Bible, making our translation available on their global sign languages Bible app. (Search for “Deaf Bible” in your app store.) Our own JSL Bible app released a year ago with multiple convenient features has had nearly 3000 downloads. Adding the Deaf Bible app places us on a worldwide platform, and gives one more way for people to find us. Both apps are available for free.

Funding: In 2015, a record $130,000 came from the U.S. through WorldVenture and went straight to the JSL Bible translation project. Many of you worked and prayed and gave toward our spring goal of $230,000 to launch a second production team. Though we fell short and the project couldn’t hire a full second team, the $80,000 positioned the project to hire one new translator.

Expansion: The JSL translation team staff and leadership made multiple trips throughout Asia working among the14 other translation projects in Asia Pacific.

Opportunities for 2016

In 2016, the project has asked the U.S. based JSL Bible Support Team for $160,000. To finish the Bible in 15 years, they have to keep growing. Please pray with us. The JSL Bible project plans to launch two concurrent initiatives, translating the books of Leviticus and Luke. Leviticus allows our experienced translator to continue the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) since Genesis and Exodus are complete; while the new translator will tackle Luke—soon all four Gospels will be available!

Mark has been asked to serve as the translation consultant for the Thailand team as well. His first trip to work with the team will be in February. Please pray that he will assist the team well, and that he will grow quickly in his Thai Sign Language ability. Rejoice that they are completing the first few chapters of Mark and will soon be ready to have it checked.

With Thanksgiving for His Glory,

Mark and Mary Esther

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