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