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March 20, 2004

Challenge turned into reality for volunteers

From: Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil - Council Bluffs,IA,USA - Mar 20, 2004

TIM JOHNSON , Staff Writer

The decision to translate the Bible's 31,373 verses into American Sign Language was made during a road trip, said Duane King, executive director of Deaf Missions.

King and former volunteer Gayle McCoy were driving to Illinois on Aug. 29, 1981, when McCoy presented the challenge, according to McCoy, who served as the project's first coordinator.

"They had talked about doing a Bible translation for years; so I said, 'When are you going to start doing it?', and he said, 'When we get someone like you to get it moving'," McCoy recalled.

Because ASL is a visual language, they knew the translation had to be done on film or videotape. They stopped and called filmmaker John Joyce of Joyce Media in Northridge, Calif., to see if he would shoot the signing for them, McCoy said.

"We stopped and called him on the phone, and he immediately agreed to work on the translation," he said.

Through Joyce Media, the group recruited actor Lou Fant, who was well known in the deaf community, to sign for the camera during the first pilot tape, King said. Dr. Harold Noe, D.Min., associate director of Deaf Missions and pastor of Christ's Church of the Deaf, became translation director. Noe, who had studied Greek and Hebrew and knew ASL, did a "front translation," with advice from two Greek scholars. The first draft was taped in April 1982, then given to a Translation Committee for review.

The agreement with Joyce Media dissolved when the company went bankrupt, Noe said.

"They were going to be in charge of the translation," he said. "It never happened."

That temporarily stalled the project.

"I don't think we had any video equipment then," said Joel Burkum, who has been with the project since its inception and is now a video producer at Deaf Missions.

But that crisis led to another partnership that would move the project forward for several years, Noe said.

"KMTV made a 20-year commitment to the project," he said.

The Omaha television station, then owned by the May family of Shenandoah, donated thousands of dollars and hours of manpower to the translation, King said.

The group developed its current method from trial and error, Noe said. The staff soon realized that deaf people needed to be the ones signing for the camera, Noe said.

"When I walk into a room and start signing, deaf people can tell right away that I'm hearing," he said. "We've used a total of 30 deaf people so far on what we've done, either as on-camera translators or as translation consultants."

One reason is the structure of the language, Noe said.

"ASL doesn't follow English word order," he said. "Syntax is totally different. We wanted pure ASL."

Using English word order to sign produces what is known as "Pigeon Sign English."

By the mid-1980s, a translation team model had been developed that could ensure consistent success, King said. It included an ASL translator (deaf), ASL consultant (deaf), bilingual coordinator (hearing with ASL skills) and original language consultant (hearing).

"Most of them have been done by teams that came in for a couple weeks and did a specific section," Noe said. "When we started out, we thought one deaf person who's smart can do the translation."

In 1987, KMTV was sold, and the new owners decided not to keep the Mays' commitment to Deaf Missions, King said.

"That was when I invented the word 'probortunity,'" he said. "A probortunity is something that looks like a problem; but, when you look back, it was really an opportunity."

Deaf Missions took the plunge and purchased its own video equipment and moved taping into its own studio, where it had made small filmstrips in the past, he said. In 1998, the organization bought a computer editing system.

The group also invested in a Teleprompter, Noe said.

"Getting a Teleprompter was the best thing we ever did," he said.

"The video equipment and editing, it's a lot cheaper than it used to be," said Jolynn Stinehagen, who was hired in 1988 and now does most of the taping and video editing. "But it's still expensive, and that's why a lot of other deaf nonprofit organizations haven't gotten into this."

Now, Deaf Missions has the equipment to transfer tapes from a digital master to the computer, then to another machine to make DVDs, Burkum said.

"We went from doing nothing here in 1982 to doing everything here now - even mastering to DVD," he said. "I never thought we'd do that here."

Deaf Missions has already released dozens of videotapes and DVDs of shorter segments of the Bible. The United Bible Society, Canadian Bible Society and American Bible Society have helped distribute them. Deaf Missions' work has inspired similar projects in 18 other countries.

©Daily Nonpareil 2004