Embracing the Paraguayan Deaf
By Shirley Anne Jacobs | Paraguay in South America
God first placed the desire to work with the Deaf on my heart when I was 17, after I served at a school for Deaf children in Peru for 10 weeks. When I arrived as a short-term mission worker to Paraguay in 2017, my primary ministry was serving as a volunteer in a local elementary school, helping children with learning difficulties. While I didn’t exclusively work with the Deaf during this time, I continually looked for opportunities to work among them.
I learned about their reality in this country. I even began taking classes in Paraguayan Sign Language (LSPY). But little did I know that God would lead me back as a long-term missionary among the Deaf years later.
One way I found out about their lifestyle was through a Paraguayan church for the Deaf. I met Deaf young people there, and they told me what life is like for them here.
Rosa* was 19 and had never learned LSPY, which is not uncommon in rural areas. Using what I learned from class, I began teaching Rosa and her mother the alphabet and other basic signs.
Over the last few years, I’ve had several of these kinds of interactions. Part of what drives my desire to work with the least-reached of the Deaf is that many do not have access to a language until someone comes and teaches them.
The Deaf are marginalised, and in many parts of the world, have never heard the gospel. Although sources vary, one of my co-workers reports that in Paraguay alone there are approximately 180,000 Deaf people. According to Mission Frontiers and others, less than 2 per cent of the Deaf worldwide have a relationship with Jesus.
In 2018, I returned to the US for more preparation and partnership building. But God opened the door for me to come back to Paraguay in January 2020. Now, I live in Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, and minister among the Deaf with a Paraguayan co-worker.
Together we work with several Deaf believers to translate the Bible into LSPY on video, since it’s a visual language. It takes significant time and resources to research, cross-check, film, edit and upload a video Bible translation.
Our team recently finished translating and filming the New Testament – praise God! We hope to upload it within a year or two, after we finish editing the footage.
Aside from translating the Bible, we are creating a Bible dictionary, producing praise songs and organising Bible study materials in LSPY. With God’s help, Paraguayan Deaf across the country can have access to resources for worshipping and studying the Bible.
In the Deaf church I serve on weekends, I assist in a kids’ club and Sunday services. One 12-year-old girl, Valeria*, comes each week with her three sisters. She is the only Deaf person in her family and attends a private school for the Deaf.
Because of her outgoing nature, Valeria has taught many of the neighbourhood children LSPY. Together, they chat with a flurry of hand motions, much laughter and broad smiles, because they have overcome language differences and found a way to communicate.
I love seeing this young woman every Saturday and learning from her as she patiently teaches me signs and bears with my mistakes. These interactions with Valeria and her friends are just a glimpse of what I someday hope to foster in other parts of Paraguay where the Deaf are still under-resourced and don’t yet know about the free gift of salvation available through Jesus.
Serve among the Deaf in Paraguay
I plan to stay in the capital for a year to learn more about this unique ministry among the Deaf of Paraguay. Afterward, I hope to move back to rural Paraguay where there are very few, if any, resources for the Deaf.
I desire to partner alongside Paraguayans as we learn to value this people group, give them access to education and community, and ultimately, disciple them in the truth of the gospel.
Only Jesus Christ can bring true hope and identity to a group so often overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the world. Will you join me?
Contact SIM today to witness among the Deaf in Paraguay.
• for God to reveal the need to share the good news of salvation among the Deaf to many.
• that the Deaf in Paraguay and around the world would have access to God’s Word in their own sign languages.
• for God to raise up Deaf Jesus followers who have a vision to see the Deaf community come to faith and repentance.
• the LSPY Bible translation team as they begin to film the Old Testament.
*Names have been changed.