Unlike most Deaf people in Thailand, Pastor Montri Siriwattanapaitoon has an exceptional gift for reading. He can read and understand the Scriptures in his second and third languages, Thai and English. But growing up Buddhist, there was a time when he didn’t know anything about the Bible.
When he first attended a Deaf church, the Deaf members struggled to understand the Scriptures. False teaching took root.
“They taught about the trinity, which was something I didn’t know about,” said Pastor Montri. “About God the Father, and about the one sitting at his right hand, who is Jesus the Son, and about the one on the left, who is the Holy Spirit — a woman with long hair. And I remember they taught that David died and went to heaven and saw the woman, and he taught his offspring that the Holy Spirit was a woman.”
Thankfully it was not long before Pastor Montri moved to another Deaf church closer to home, where the teaching was theologically sound. But that early experience showed him just how desperately the Thai Deaf need the Scriptures in their own language.
A New Man, a New Mission
When Pastor Montri first attended church, it was as much out of curiosity about the community and the relationships he found there as it was about the Scriptures themselves. But over the next year or so, as he learned more about the Bible, he recognized his sin and his need for a Savior, and he accepted Christ. “If there was no Jesus when we died, who would help us?” said Pastor Montri. “He alone is the most important.”
Over time, Pastor Montri got more and more involved in the church and Christian ministry. Later he attended Bible college and became the first and only ordained Deaf pastor in all of Thailand.
With his Bible training, Pastor Montri was now able to dive deeper into the Scriptures than ever before. But he discovered that while he could read and understand the Bible, it was difficult to know how to clearly translate its meaning into Thai Sign Language.
“There were concepts in the Bible that I used to just sign according to the Thai grammar,” said Pastor Montri. “But as time went on, I realized that the Deaf weren’t understanding, so there was no growth. And they couldn’t remember what I taught. I thought, ‘I want them to be able to read and mature like I have been able to, but how can I help them do that?’”
It would be almost a decade before Pastor Montri could answer that question. In the meantime he did his best to lead, and God blessed his ministry, allowing him and his wife to plant several Deaf churches throughout the region.
A Visual Solution
It was just eight years ago that Pastor Montri first learned about the Thailand Bible Society project that is translating the Bible book by book into Thai Sign Language. He immediately recognized this as the solution he’d been looking for as a pastor! Excited about the potential for reaching the Deaf in their own language, Pastor Montri joined the project and eventually became the team leader.
In the beginning the team ran into a number of technical challenges. First, they didn’t all live in the same city, so there were a lot of communication issues and delays. Second, there was a steep learning curve when it came to translation technique. As a result, they had to abandon much of their early work as they learned a better method.
Just over a year ago, the team received new training and was able to recruit new, full-time translators. With those two key factors now in place, the team has been able to speed ahead. Pastor Montri is enthusiastic about the progress the team has made and the response he sees in the Deaf as they view Scripture for the first time. He is also excited to see the partnership that has been established between the Thailand Bible Society team and the Chronological Bible Translation team. The work of the two teams is complimentary, with the passages in the Chronological Bible Translation set providing an introduction to the Good News that the Deaf can then build on using the book-by-book translation.
“The Bible in Thai Sign Language is really able to help the Deaf,” said Pastor Montri. “When they have something that they weren’t able to understand before, they can pull up the video, they can pause it by sections, and they can also ask for help.”
Already the Thailand Bible Society team has published the first ten chapters of the Gospel of Mark. One Deaf woman came to watch the translation process and observed the multiple revisions and checks that the translation goes through. Seeing that the translation was community tested with both believers and non-believers, she commented, “Now I know the Thai Sign Language translation is a true translation — it is something I can trust. It is truly in the language of the Thai Deaf!”
This same woman now uses the translation before she shares with her church group on Sundays. She is excited not only to have the translation for her own use, but she also encourages the Deaf in her church to use it and spread the word.
Please pray for the team as they continue this exciting work of bringing the Words of Life to the Deaf in Thailand.