Estonia initially gained freedom in 1918, but after being forced to incorporate in the Soviet Union in 1940, it finally regained its independence in 1991. Estonia is rich in minerals and resources, including oil shale, peat, rare earth elements, phosphorite, clay, limestone, sand, dolomite and sea mud. While about half of the population in Estonia identifies as Christian, the other half identifies as non-religious.
Out of 1.2 million people in Estonia, about 1,600 are Deaf. For many years, the Deaf community in Estonia was overlooked by hearing people, but the country has made recent efforts to include them in wider communication. In 2007 Estonia officially recognized Estonian Sign Language as an independent language. Now it’s being used in schools, television programs, government services and more, which has helped the Deaf community thrive.
But there’s still one thing the Deaf in Estonia are disconnected from: God’s Word in a language and format they clearly understand. Currently Deaf Estonians can only study the Bible in a written language, but sign languages and spoken or written languages have completely different syntaxes; the way words are ordered in spoken languages differs from the way words are ordered in sign languages. Spoken languages are also phonetic, relying on connections between text and sound, while signed languages rely on facial expressions, hand movements and body language.
That’s why the Deaf need God’s Word in a format they clearly understand: video. Sign language teams film a person signing the translated Scripture, then check, edit and revise the video recordings before publishing them.
A translation team produced the Gospel of Mark in Estonian Sign Language, which heightened the Deaf community’s desire for Scripture. Now Deaf in Estonia eagerly await more of God’s Word translated so they can personally interact with Scripture. A project facilitator said: “Deaf Estonians have the desire to understand God's Word without depending on pastors and church leaders.”
Team members plan to translate and publish Genesis 1-36, Luke 1-2 and the book of Acts next. They’ll also publish and distribute God’s Word among the Deaf community of all ages in a variety of formats to make sure the completed videos are readily available. A digital version via a smartphone app and a website will allow Deaf Estonians to easily access God’s Word wherever they go. Scripture on DVDs and flash drives will provide access for older Estonians who have limited access to technology, such as those in nursing homes. Church leaders also anticipate using DVDs to share the gospel in prisons where internet access is prohibited.
Praise God for the work he’s already doing in the hearts and lives of the Estonian Deaf!
- That the Deaf in Estonia will be transformed by Scripture in their language.
- Strength for the team as they translate, publish and distribute God’s Word.
- The continued work of Bible translation in sign languages around the world.