My name is Ojok Charles, and I am from Uganda.
I work as a video editor for the Ugandan Sign Language Bible translation team.
Growing up Deaf in Uganda has not been easy. If you look at my past, you will know why I am deeply thankful to God for how He has helped me through hard times.
Today, COVID-19 impacts all of us, making things more difficult than before. Since transportation is limited. I walk three hours to work each way, several days a week. I am committed to seeing God’s Word in my sign language so that one day my community will no longer have to wait to know Jesus!
I was born during a war. It forced us to move back and forth between the city and village to stay safe. There was more opportunity to farm and grow food in the village, but I remember times when my mom had to hide my siblings and me in the jungle for protection.
My deafness was caused by malaria at birth. The doctors tried different medicine, hoping that it would fix me, but nothing could get my ears to work.
Growing up, my days were filled with sadness and disappointment. My face often reflected my feelings as I watched other kids go to school while I was held back. I desperately wanted to be like them. I would ask my mom over and over, but she always told me the same, you cannot go because you are Deaf, or it is not worth sending you to school when you cannot hear, or you need to wait! We were poor, and paying school tuition for a Deaf person was unheard of as many thought that Deaf people could not learn.
My early education came from writing words in the dirt. I didn’t have any paper, so the other kids would teach me how to draw the letters in the sand. I was told that I didn’t need an education, but rather learn how to farm and work the ground. I didn’t like doing that. I actually hated farming as the sun beat on my back all day, but there were no other opportunities for Deaf people.
One day, I asked my uncle, “who made the trees? Who made the sky?” He gave me a book with a picture of a smiling man. When I asked him who it was, he replied, “Jesus, Jesus.” He pointed to the sky and tried to tell me that this man made everything. He told me about another man named God, who was big and powerful and also in the sky, but I was confused. Still, I loved that book. I didn’t understand any of the words, but the pictures were beautiful.
Every week, while others went to church, I had to stay and work in the fields. I would ask my mom, again and again, to let me go to church, and one day, she let me! At church, I saw Jesus on a cross, the same as in my uncle’s book. I didn’t understand the message, but I would ask the other kids, is it the same as the book? I would have to wait to find out.
One time, a missionary group came to our city to show the Jesus Film. The same people in my uncle’s book were in the movie. In the end, I saw Jesus die on the same cross that was in the church. Even though I couldn’t hear the words, my heart listened as this man gave himself up for many.
At that time, I was 14 and still uneducated. We had to move back to the city, and one day, while I was out, I ran into a young Deaf man. This was the first time in my life seeing another Deaf person! I couldn’t communicate with him because I didn’t have a real language. The gestures I grew up with were only known in my home with my family. But here was an educated Deaf person, right in front of me. He wrote some things down on a piece of paper that I gave to my mom. I learned that there was a bus that transported Deaf children to a school for the Deaf. I waited a long time for this day, but I remember how afraid I was. I had no exposure to other Deaf, and I always thought that Deaf people could not be educated. I could only attend school for a short period because my father perished in the war, and we had to move again. We were very poor, and there was no money to send me to school again.
I hung on to a hope of something better, and years later, something happened that did change my life. I was a young man in need of employment, and I found a job working for The Association for the Deaf in Uganda. I stayed there for a while and earned an income. Much of what I made paid for my siblings to go to school. The war made everything hard, but I wanted them to look forward to something better for their future.
That job led me to other good things. Through a series of blessed events, I attended Kenya Bible school, where my long wait finally ended.
I look back and see all the years I had to wait. Wait for school and wait to learn about Jesus.
Today, my life looks very different. I am proud to be part of the Ugandan Sign Language Bible Translation team. I rise with the sun and make the three and a half-hour walk to work. On a good day, I walk fast and can make it under three hours. But, on the road, I have a lot of time to think and dream, and I look forward to a better future for my Deaf community and me.
Admittedly, there are days when I grow tired and weary, but I press on. Many Deaf people say they need the Bible in a language that they can understand. I know that Jesus is waiting to meet them all!
“but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”-Isaiah 40:31 (NIV).