My family loves signing God's word for our Deaf community

My wife Judie and I are bilingual, being fluent in English and Auslan – Australian sign language.

We both come from deaf families, and have been involved in the Auslan Bible Project since its inception in the 1990s. My parents, Betty and Peter Bonser, were also involved with the project since early days.

They have left a lasting legacy on the project. Mum was one of the first on-screen translators having worked on a trial translation of the book of Ruth.

On the other hand, Dad was there for moral support and served as a good sounding board to proof some of the passages with, and to see if he found the translation helpful.

Dad struggled to read the Bible in English; his knowledge of his Lord came from seeing other people signing about God.

Dad saw some of the earlier works of the Auslan Bible before his passing. His comments and the smile on his face told me he understood more than ever before.

Mum was reading the Bible in her first language for the first time.

As the books of the Gospels and sections of the Old Testament were completed, Mum enjoyed sitting down with her Bible and viewing the Auslan Bible. Her greatest joy was to watch the Bible passages on the TV screen being presented in Auslan, to read the captions on the screen and to follow the same passages in her printed English Bible.

Mum’s love and faith in Jesus never wavered. However, after a lifetime of reading a printed Bible in English and trying to understand its detailed message, Mum found that the Bible came alive with the Auslan Bible.

Mum was reading the Bible in her first language for the first time.

The Auslan Bible Project team know that the translations are providing the Deaf Community with a clearer and more accurate understanding of God’s Word. Many deaf people have come to us and said how they have read a passage many times throughout their life, but this is the first time they have truly understood it.

My wife Judie and I have had various roles within the Auslan translation team during the past few decades.

Initially, Judie worked as an office administrator on the project before becoming a behind-the-camera person. She checked that the signs being used remained consistent and correct, according to those agreed to during the front translation process. As for my involvement, it began as front translator and, later, to one of the bilingual on-screen readers.

The front translator is a bilingual person who works with a Biblical Scholar to create the first draft translation (front translation). This translation goes to the on-screen reader who checks it, and any errors need to be corrected by the front translator.

The next step of a thorough process is that the draft goes back to the reader, who works to learn the translation. They perform and record the reading, which is then checked by a different and independent bilingual person (the back translator) – who translates the reading back to the biblical scholar, to check for accuracy. Any errors need to be corrected before the translation is ready for release.

Commitment to faithfulness and accuracy are core to the Auslan Bible translation team, who appreciate the responsibility they have to help the Deaf community grasp the life-giving truths of God’s word.

What a blessing it is for Deaf people to read the Bible in their language and to understand more of the Bible’s message.

A huge learning curve for me came when working with John Harris, Bible Society Australia’s translation consultant (Harris is also a historian and scholar). He clarified many things I thought I understood from reading the Bible in English; however, what I didn’t understand was what the original writings were saying and what those words truly meant.

One of many examples is how I always thought I understood the Lord’s Prayer – but I never realised I was signing it wrong. The reference to “thy kingdom” is about the time of God’s rule, not about the place where God lives.

My family has loved being part of serving the Deaf community through the Auslan Bible translations.

What a blessing it is for Deaf people to read the Bible in their language and to understand more of the Bible’s message.

Peter Bonser grew up with profoundly deaf signing parents. He holds a Certified Interpreter accreditation from the National Accreditation Authority of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). Peter has worked professionally with the Deaf Community for more than 40 years, as well as holding numerous voluntary roles. With his Auslan Bible translation work, he has been a committee member, interpreter, Front Translator and, at times, on-screen reader.

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