When I was two years old, my parents discovered I was Deaf. With Christ at the center of our home, it wasn't long before they found a Deaf church for me to attend — ensuring I had access to God's word at a young age. By the age of seven, I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, thanks partly to this community of Christian signers.
In my work with the global Deaf community, I've discovered that less than two percent of the Deaf identify as followers of Jesus. But new technology offered by Wycliffe Bible Translators and their global partners is trying to change that.
A new form of motion capture technology can now transform the way we present Scripture to a person who is Deaf. Dubbed "Chameleon" by its creators, the technology features a digital avatar, or animated character, who signs the Bible to the viewer. Sign language Scriptures are delivered in a video format, with someone signing the translated message in the appropriate sign language. The Chameleon technology captures the movements of a person signing Scripture and converts their appearance to an avatar.
Groundbreaking for the global Deaf community, Chameleon is digital, changeable and protects the translator's identity. Since the invention of sign language, people have been signing to one another in the Deaf community. Unfortunately, in the work of Deaf Bible translation, the person presenting the sign language is automatically associated with the Scripture they are depicting. Using an avatar removes that connection. If a signer's lifestyle, choices, or beliefs are ever compromised, it doesn't devalue the Bible message. No human is visibly attached to the Scripture verse.
For years, I have worked as a signer in Deaf Bible translation. People know me as the "Jesus guy" or the guy who signs for Jesus. But my goal is for viewers to focus on what the Bible is saying, not on me. Chameleon offers that.
Chameleon's avatar technology also transcends race and culture. As a white man, if I sign the book of Mark, for example, and present it to another culture, I don't want that culture to think the Scripture is merely the "white man's beliefs." Chameleon's avatar technology removes that notion, allowing the viewer to convert the avatar to their nationality — making the translator's appearance anonymous.
Using an avatar also protects the translator from incrimination. Some Christians live in places hostile to the Gospel. Filming someone in one of these countries while signing the Bible can be dangerous. The avatar allows sign language to be presented in countries unfriendly to the Bible while protecting the person responsible for the translation. A win for the Deaf community, Chameleon has taken Bible translation to the next level.
The core of Chameleon, the avatar, has been in the works for 10-plus years by multiple groups and partners, so it's not entirely new. A steward of the technology, Wycliffe has helped it across the finish line. Moving forward, the goal is to have the system in use worldwide.
The Deaf community has not always been prioritized in terms of technology — until recent years. The global effort that led to the development of Chameleon now provides the opportunity to get God's word into the hands of one of the most unreached people groups across the globe.
Philippians 2:11 reminds us that one day "every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Chameleon advances this truth — allowing a previously sidelined group more immediate access to the God of the ages who changes lives. This is the heart of the Great Commission.
Every people group worldwide deserves the opportunity to hear the Gospel — the Deaf are no exception. I am excited to get this innovative technology into the hands of the global Deaf community and witness more people come into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ because of it.
Adan Burke is a sign language partnership specialist at Wycliffe Bible Translators USA.