Unique Film Breaks Down Communication Barriers to Share Gospel with the Deaf

By Nancy Flory Published on June 20, 2024

A new kind of film about Jesus hits the big screen today. It’s not just a good film; it has the goal of reaching the deaf with the Gospel. Jesus tells Jesus Christ’s story from the beginning of His ministry to His resurrection. And it’s entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).

Director and producer Joseph Josselyn, who is deaf, wants to reach the deaf audience with the Gospel through the movie (which has subtitles for the hearing). “The biggest reason that deaf people don’t know Jesus,” he told The Stream, “is because of the barriers to communication.” 

Josselyn is so committed to the goal that he made sure to hire an all-deaf cast for the film. “Everybody who you see signing in the cast, everybody is deaf,” he said. “There were some background extras that didn’t sign, that might be deaf, but anybody who acted in the movie had to be deaf.”

Limited Access to the Gospel

Josselyn remembers seeing Jesus of Nazareth (1977) each year on television when he was a child. One day, while watching the series, he wondered, What if Jesus could sign?

Josselyn grew up in the church and accepted the Lord at age 12. His parents learned ASL and shared the Gospel with him.

But others aren’t so blessed. “Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and so inherently there’s that challenge,” he explained. “Maybe hearing parents don’t learn sign language or they learn very slowly or whatever. Deaf children often don’t have access to communication and therefore, less opportunity to be impacted by the Gospel.”

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The deaf population is one of the largest unreached groups, Josselyn said. According to the Joshua Project, more than 50 million deaf people around the globe still need to hear the Gospel. Some people groups are experiencing progress, but more than nine million remain largely unreached — groups in nations the Joshua Project says have few evangelicals, few who identify as Christians and little, if any, history of Christianity. 

As an adult, Josselyn began working as a producer for Deaf Missions, a Christian nonprofit organization that shares the Gospel with the deaf through videos and other resources. Deaf Missions also completed the first full ASL Bible translation. While there, Josselyn helped make a film on the book of Job; the deaf community’s response to it, he said, was “indescribable.”

A Deaf Perspective

That’s when Josselyn knew he wanted to film Jesus. He says God provided the $4.8 million needed over three years, mostly through mostly small donations. 

“To be involved in this as a director has just been an incredibly rich experience, a humbling experience,” he says. “We had a wonderful cast and crew. The cameras captured movement from a deaf perspective.”

What does that mean? For example, in hearing films, the camera can pan away from actors while they are speaking and audiences can still follow along. “But that’s not true in the deaf world,” he explains. “The frame has to stay on the actor who’s signing. So we had to think about that differently.

“This is a miracle. I mean, the fact that this movie has been made, it’s all God.”

An Eternal Impact

At least one person has come to Christ already because the film.

“We had an individual accept Jesus Christ during the production, through the work of filming the movie” and get baptized on the set, Josselyn said. After watching the film at a red carpet event, a second person said, “I think I understand the love of Jesus.”

And that is exactly what Josselyn wants.

“For the deaf audience, my prayer is that they will walk away knowing Jesus better — whatever that looks like on their individual faith journey. I want them to grow, to be more open, or maybe even accept Jesus themselves,” he said. “For hearing people who see the movie, I hope that they will, of course, understand more about Jesus as well through the story. But also understand deafness, understand deaf culture, understand the deaf world a little bit better, and maybe appreciate it more.”

Jesus releases on today in approximately 300 theaters nationwide. Watch the trailer here: 

 

Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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