Serving a Unique Language Group in Korea

A VERY enthusiastic but rather quiet group assembled for a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the summer of 1997. This was the first convention of its kind in Korea for the deaf and hearing impaired. It had a peak attendance of 1,174. The entire program​—including talks, interviews, and a drama—​was presented in Korean Sign Language and projected on a large screen visible throughout the Assembly Hall. This was the climax of many years of hard work on the part of numerous volunteers.

The time will come in an earthly paradise when “the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5) To experience life in that Paradise, everyone, including the deaf, must first enter into the spiritual paradise, the prosperous spiritual condition of God’s blessed people. They must become dedicated, baptized Witnesses of Jehovah, being instructed by him.​—Micah 4:1-4.

Small Beginnings

Although some preaching was done among the deaf in the 1960’s, it was not until the 1970’s that a few of them began attending meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Seoul, the capital city of Korea. A Christian brother who could write fast used a blackboard to note down the main points of the talks, including the Bible texts used.

In 1971 in the city of Taejon, one Witness who had a deaf son began teaching him and his deaf friends the Kingdom message. From this group have come several zealous individuals who now serve as the backbone in the sign-language field.​—Zechariah 4:10.

Young Ones Offer Themselves Willingly

If deaf ones were to take in knowledge of Jehovah and Jesus and thus get on the road to life, considerable effort would have to be put forth by other volunteers. (John 17:3) To this  end, quite a few of Jehovah’s Witnesses have learned sign language and have been blessed with enriching experiences.

One 15-year-old, Park In-sun, made it his goal to learn sign language. To do so, he became an apprentice in a factory where a group of 20 deaf individuals were employed. For eight months he worked closely with them in order to learn the language and the thinking of the deaf. The following year, he became a regular pioneer, or full-time Kingdom proclaimer, and worked with a group of deaf people who were interested in Bible truth. The group grew very rapidly, and soon more than 35 attended the Sunday meetings.​—Psalm 110:3.

Thereafter, for the first time in Seoul, Christian meetings were arranged exclusively in sign language. Brother Park In-sun served as a special pioneer in this expanding group. He had now become proficient in sign language. During some months, he conducted 28 home Bible studies with deaf people. Many of these progressed and became Witnesses of Jehovah.

As a result of this very active volunteer work, the first sign-language congregation in Seoul was formed in October 1976, with 40 publishers and 2 regular pioneers. This spurred on the activity in other cities in Korea. Many deaf people were hungering for the good news and were waiting to be visited.

Working Among the Deaf

You may wonder how the deaf were found. A number of them were contacted through referrals. Also, the owners of local rice shops were approached, and they provided the names and addresses of deaf people. Some government offices were helpful in providing such information. Diligent coverage of the territory where the deaf lived was so successful that, in time, four sign-language congregations were formed. Many Christian youths were encouraged to learn sign language.

Special pioneer ministers who had learned sign language were assigned by the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to work with the congregations. More recently, graduates of the Ministerial Training School have been assigned to these congregations and have strengthened them spiritually.

There are difficulties to be overcome. Serving in this territory requires putting forth effort to understand the culture of the deaf. They are very straightforward in thought and action. This sometimes surprises people and may cause misunderstandings. Furthermore, when Witnesses conduct home Bible studies with deaf people, there is a need to help them become proficient in their own language and to encourage them to expand their own program of reading and studying.

In their daily activities, the deaf face difficulties that are largely unknown to others. Communication in government offices and health-care facilities, as well as simple business transactions, often become major problems for them. Because Witnesses from  nearby congregations have offered loving assistance, deaf people in the Christian congregation have experienced real brotherhood.​—John 13:34, 35.

Informal Witnessing Brings Results

In Pusan, Korea’s major southern port city, a Witness happened to meet two deaf individuals who wrote on a piece of paper: “We like Paradise. We want to know the scriptures that tell about everlasting life.” The brother noted down their address and arranged to visit them. When he did so, he found a roomful of deaf ones waiting to hear the Kingdom message. This experience prompted him to begin learning sign language. Soon a sign-language congregation was formed in Pusan.

A brother from that congregation noticed two deaf persons signing to each other and approached them. Finding that they had just attended a religious meeting, he invited them to the Kingdom Hall at two in the afternoon of the same day. They came, and a Bible study was started. Shortly thereafter, the 2 attended the district convention along with 20 of their deaf friends. From that group, several have dedicated their lives to Jehovah. Two have become congregation elders and one a ministerial servant in sign-language congregations.

 Determination Is Rewarded

Since some deaf people live quite a distance from any sign-language congregation, great effort and determination are often required to provide them with regular spiritual nourishment from the Bible. For example, a 31-year-old man made a living by fishing off an island. He heard of the Bible’s message from his younger brother, who had been contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. In an effort to satisfy his spiritual hunger, the deaf fisherman traveled ten miles [16 km] by boat to Tongyoung City, on the southern coast of Korea. That was in order to meet a special pioneer from the Masan City sign-language congregation. Every Monday, this special pioneer made a 40-mile [65 km] trip just to conduct the Bible study with the deaf fisherman.

To attend the Sunday meeting in Masan City, the deaf Bible student had to travel 10 miles [16 km] by boat and then take a bus for another 40 miles [65 km]. His determination paid off. In a few months, he had improved in sign language, learned more Korean characters, and​—most important—​learned of the only way to build a relationship with Jehovah. Realizing the importance of meetings and regular witnessing, he moved to the territory of the sign-language congregation. Was that easy? No. He had to give up his fishing job that netted him up to $3,800 dollars a month, but his determination was rewarded. After progressing in the truth, he was baptized and now happily serves Jehovah along with his family.

Translation for the Deaf

The good news of the Kingdom is often conveyed by word of mouth. However, to convey the message from God’s Word more accurately, it is essential that Bible teaching be presented in a more permanent form. Thus, in the first century, books and letters were written by experienced older men. (Acts 15:22-31; Ephesians 3:4; Colossians 1:2; 4:16) In our time, an abundance of spiritual food has been provided by means of books and other Christian publications. These have been translated into hundreds of languages, including various sign languages. To do this in Korean Sign Language, the branch office has a sign-language translation department. A video department produces sign-language videos. This provides spiritual sustenance for deaf proclaimers of the good news and interested ones in congregations throughout Korea.

Although many have become proficient in sign language and have assisted in producing videos, usually the best translators are children of deaf parents. They have learned sign language from infancy. These not only sign accurately but also give heartfelt meaning and emphasis to the message by their gestures and facial expressions, thus reaching the mind and the heart.

As noted, conventions and assemblies in sign language are now held on a regular basis in Korea. Much work, expense, and effort are needed to accomplish this. However, those in attendance appreciate this arrangement. After these gatherings conclude, many linger, wanting to continue the wholesome association and review the fine spiritual food provided. Clearly, serving in this unique group has its challenges, but the spiritual blessings make it worthwhile.

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Sign-language videos produced in Korea: “What Does God Require of Us?,” “Appreciating Our Spiritual Heritage,” “Warning Examples for Our Day,” and “Respect Jehovah’s Authority”

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Clockwise from below: Sign-language video being produced at the Korea branch; preparing signs for theocratic terms; sign-language translation team; prompting the signer during video production