I want to tell you about my life story and who I am. My name is Osman. My mom is Ukrainian and white, and my father is Tanzanian. People know me from University, a medical university. I was born Deaf into a family that all can hear, and I am the first Deaf person throughout all of my generations. I grew up with my mother only. My parents divorced long ago. My father left and eventually moved to England. I remember long ago that people would use their mouths to communicate and not their hands, while I was growing up. This is when I was very young and not yet in school.
I remember thinking that they all can understand each other, but
I can’t understand them.
I grew up in a strong Catholic family. Every week my mom and I would go to church. My mom was responsible for playing the piano at church. When I was very young, I remember that this thick Polish Bible was sitting on the shelf. It was my mom’s Bible. I would sit down and look through the pages. I remember my mom pulling that thick Bible off the shelf and me looking through it. It had wonderful pictures of stories that would capture my attention for hours. I would wonder about the images as I was drawn into the colorful pictures. “Did God make everything?” I would ask.
It was through the pictures that I learned that God created the world and everything in it. Even though I had this beautiful picture book, I couldn’t grasp more than what the pictures showed me. I couldn’t understand the words.
The pictures represented concepts of Adam and Eve and their journey with the serpent and sin. I remember looking through the pictures of Abraham and Jacob and Issac (Jacob’s story is still prevalent in my memory today.) I was drawn into the angels’ pictures going up and down the ladder, and I was fascinated by how Jacob was asleep, yet he was communicating with God. I always wondered how was that possible? I would look through that picture Bible, over and over again.
Made in His Image
Then, I was old enough to go to school. During that time, my mom wanted to find my father, but she was unsuccessful for a long time. Finally, she did see him in Moscow. This was around 1996 or 1997. She filled out paperwork to find my father. Back then, we had to take a train to Moscow. We were on the train when I noticed people pointing and talking about me.
They were pointing at me because of my skin and how I looked different from them.
My mom was always very protective of me. Because it was right after the fall of Communism, people were learning new ways and habits but still nervous about the past. There were very few people of color in this region of the world, and people were not used to seeing black people. That day, some train riders were offended and felt the need to inform the train attendant that a person of color was riding their train. The attendant immediately came over to talk to my mom and to check our tickets. The attendant asked my mom directly if she had stolen me. My mom answered with a conviction that I was, indeed, her son! My skin color raised questions and eyebrows. People made assumptions and never thought that my father could be a person of color. The conductor still wanted proof and asked my mom for her papers. He went through everything with a fine-toothed comb making sure I really belonged to her.
I remember getting off the train to transfer to the underground metro. When we entered, we noticed that many people would stare, talk behind our backs, and use terrible ethnic slurs. The more that people would talk and stare, the more my mom became enraged. Now, since I was Deaf, I couldn’t hear the words being spoken, but it was obvious all of the oppression happening around me.
At that time in my life, I started kindergarten. I felt normal and equal among other Deaf people in my school, but I remember on day one, everyone staring at me because of my skin color. I looked different from everyone else. I was the only black student. Everyone else was white. I still remember that day clearly. That day everyone stopped talking and just stared at me.
People were fascinated with my skin color.
When I walked up and down the hallways, people had to point out that I was black. But, even so, I did feel accepted and loved. I walked up and down the halls shaking everyone’s hand, and they accepted me as an equal, all but one. One girl was afraid of me. She wouldn’t shake my hand. She thought that my dark skin meant that I was dirty. The teacher explained to her that it wasn’t dirt but my skin pigment, which was not meant to be washed away. After the teacher explained everything, that girl was very accepting of who I was. During all of this, I never felt oppressed. It was just a natural occurrence. People were curious. It was curiosity that led some of them to learn to sign. Throughout it all, I felt very supportive.
It wasn’t a time of oppression rather a time to learn from one another.
Who is Jesus?
When I was young, I went to a Christian camp. There, a Deaf missionary explained that if you trust the world, the world will disappoint you. I told the missionary that I trusted my mom. He said that’s great that I trusted my mom, but there was someone even more trustworthy, and his name is Jesus. He explained that Jesus was the only one who was righteous, worthy, and without sin. That’s when I finally understood who Jesus was and became a believer.
There was a pastor who could hear who helped me understand God’s love and salvation through Jesus.
I wanted to know more, but I couldn’t understand the written Bible.
That pastor knew my sign language and tried his best to support me and help me know more. School was difficult, and reading was a challenge. I always tried my best, but I still struggled.
Deaf people will know God by giving them a Bible in their sign language! Without access to God’s Word in sign language, Deaf people only have access to surface information and can’t know God fully.
Since I was a kid, I struggled to understand the written Word. It was only when a pastor, who could hear, read the Bible in his language, and then explained it to me in my sign language that I could fully understand. After the pastor explained the passages in my sign language, I wanted more! Now, my journey is to help other Deaf people come to know Christ through Scriptures in our sign language.
Now, I am working as a Ukrainian sign language Bible translator. Many Deaf people in Ukraine struggle with reading the written language. Deaf people are very visual, which is why I fully support Deaf Bible Society and the work that is being done and so that the financial needs of translation teams can be met. There are many standards that a translation team must meet, such as a community checkpoint where specific signs are discussed to match the biblical content. Making a collective community-based decision is such an essential step in the process of sign language translation. Through this community check, different churches with different denominations come together to discuss the biblical signs used so that all are in agreement. They have chosen me as a representative because they know I am serving God wholeheartedly, full time on the translation team.
I am so thankful that God has allowed me to serve in this way. I knew that God had called me to this specific task because I wanted to go to work in different countries long ago, but there was a continued sense that something was off. I experienced many barriers and frustrations. I knew that something was not right. That’s when I knew that God had a different plan for me.
Now, we are translating the book of John.
I hope that soon the Deaf people of Ukraine will have the opportunity to see God’s Word in their sign language.
I know that after Deaf people have access to God’s Word in sign language, understanding the written text will become easier.
Without God’s Word in sign language, Deaf people do not have the opportunity to know God fully. When Deaf people watch God’s Word in sign language, Scripture becomes alive.
The signed Scriptures lead Deaf people to understand the written Word as well. This makes leading and teaching so much easier. I know deep in my heart that without Scriptures in sign language, Deaf people have a limited understanding of God based on limited access to His Word in their language.
I remember when I was 16 years old and tried to read the Bible. It was so difficult. When the pastor sat and signed the Scriptures to me, I understood!
Now, I get it! We need Scriptures in sign language to understand God.
so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
For ways on how you can get involved, click here.