The God who fits the pieces of the puzzle: In Conversation with Rebecca Thurrowgood

Zoe, Saul, Leia, Rebecca and Emily

Zoe, Saul, Leia, Rebecca and Emily

Saul and Rebecca Thurrowgood got married in 2008. They have 3 children, Leia, Zoe and Emily. Saul has worked in science for a long time and had no reason to believe in anything spiritual until a student at his workplace told him about Christianity and offered to buy him a Bible—surprisingly he accepted. He has 13 years of experience working in computer vision research. Rebecca is a Child Of Deaf Adult (CODA). She has worked as an Auslan Language Model/Teacher’s Assistant for 8 years with primary school children in a BIlingual/Bicultural program. Rebecca also has extensive experience as a paraprofessional interpreter. Saul and Rebecca have felt God’s calling to be involved with the Deaf in Christian ministry and to contribute to the work of translating Bibles into sign language for the Deaf around the world.

Phoebe Tay interviews Rebecca Thurrowgood on her journey as a Christian. Rebecca shares how God has guided her every step of the way and how He has unfolded His plan for her life to be involved with Wycliffe Bible Translators as a missionary.

*A special thank you to Rebecca Thurrowgood for putting this Auslan translation video together.

How did you become a Christian?

I grew up in a Christian home with Deaf parents who were both actively involved in church life. When I was 5 years old, both my sister and I responded to an altar call at Garden City Christian Church in Brisbane. I don’t remember the sermon but I do recall that I wanted to follow Jesus. I have followed him from that point with varying degrees of success.

How has the journey as a Christian been for you since the time you decided to follow him? Were there any turning points?

It was good and challenging. I’ve always loved Jesus and felt loved by him. My parents were good role-models of what it meant to serve him and I just naturally took that on board. During my late teens and twenties, I went through a struggle to really make my faith my own.  It was when I was 25, that I experienced a breakthrough in my spiritual life. It was like I finally understood and felt the peace and freedom I knew I should have in Christ. I’m not sure what God did in my life exactly that turned that lightbulb on but I know I haven’t been the same since.

Do you have a bible verse or two that has really impacted you in the past?

God gave me a verse a while back about 10 years ago that gave me hope. I was asking Him how things would change in the Deaf community. I know that many Deaf have been hurt deeply and have suffered greatly. 

I began to question whether God could restore them and bring healing. He spoke to me through Isaiah 43:19-20 “…I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland…” Essentially, nothing is impossible for God. He will make a way for them to come to Him. He will heal their hearts. 

Also another piece of scripture that we use for our ministry is Romans 15:21, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”

What sort of Christian ministries have you been involved in?

Growing up, I was involved in the kid’s ministry as a leader. I also put song lyrics on the screen during worship. I really enjoyed worship which led me to serve in the worship team by singing and playing the piano. 

When I turned 18, I started to be involved in sign language interpreting at church. I started interpreting the youth ministry as well so that younger Deaf could have access to the youth activities and participate in them. Two Deaf youth came on a regular basis. 

During a youth camp, a Deaf young man whom I was interpreting for drowned. That really hit the people in the youth group and myself hard. After that, there wasn’t anything much to interpret for anymore. I was about 22 years old at the time. The man who died was a very faithful member and the other Deaf who turned up only did so sporadically. Hence, a decision was made to stop interpreting night services. The other interpreter who helped me to interpret youth had to move away and the interpreting ministry just kinda fizzled out. 

I continued to be involved in youth group leadership, and running Connect groups. After I met Saul and we got engaged, we felt that God was directing us to return to being involved with the Deaf. From then on, we started to attend our Deaf church regularly. We were involved in interpreting, preaching, worship and just generally encouraging Deaf people. However, the Deaf church closed down at the end of 2010. After that, we just continued to be involved in leadership of Connect groups in the hearing church.

How did you find out about Wycliffe Bible Translators?

After the Deaf church closed we began seeking God’s direction for our lives. We happened to visit a local church in our area. That morning they advertised ‘Kairos’, a missions perspective course. Saul and I decided that that might be good for us to do. He had had several experiences where people he didn’t know had come up to him and shared with him about life as a missionary and encouraged him to follow God. We participated in the course going on Tuesday nights for 10 weeks. There was a retired Wycliffe couple there and we heard a little bit about the organisation.

During our honeymoon, a retired missionary couple we met at a church we visited took us in for the day and taught us all sorts of mission stuff. Later, we discovered that they were from Wycliffe. Sometimes, God is the God of surprises! 

Later on, we decided we might check out PROBE in Melbourne and tie it in with a visit to Saul’s family. We attended the workshop in July 2010. Both of us had such a wonderful time and enjoyed every moment. By the end of the week, we decided we wanted to become Wycliffe members. The process of obtaining membership was quite a long one. Saul was required to do at least a year of Bible college full time so we went back to Brisbane and he enrolled in Bible college. By the end of 2012, we were accepted as Wycliffe members. Saul and I ended up attending EQUIP Summer School in 2013. The course was very intense but I loved every moment of it.

What inspired you to start the Auslan Bible storytelling workshops?

Actually the idea came from Barry Borneman, the CEO of Wycliffe Australia. He happened to be a guest speaker at a church in Melbourne in November last year. During his talk he shared stories about Bible Storytelling and how it is used on the mission field. It so happened that the service was interpreted and there was a young Deaf lady in the congregation. After his presentation, she came up to Barry and said that she wanted to learn Bible Storytelling as she was keen to make videos and use them to reach out to her Deaf friends. Coincidentally, the Auslan interpreter happened to be a former school mate of Barry’s wife! 

Barry knew I had been involved in Deaf ministry and approached me about running the Auslan Bible Storytelling course at the Wycliffe Kangaroo Ground premise in Melbourne. As I put out feelers about it, there seemed to be a lot of interest among the Deaf Christians in Australia. Therefore, I made the decision to run it in more than one state.

How many people attended the recent Auslan Bible Storytelling workshops in Sydney on the 28th-29th March? How many facilitators were there? How many participants signed up?

I had 12 participants who came for the full workshop. Another 5 only came on the Friday night. There were 5 facilitators, including me. 

How did the workshops go? What did you as a facilitator learn? 

Okay… the workshop went quite well for its first run. I knew I would have to test out some things to see if they would work with Deaf culture. There are a few things I need to improve on and structure better. 

However, it seems that the participants really took it and ran with it. I was really impressed by the discussions that took place around the Bible stories and how to translate them into full Auslan.  Each small group had a mix of participants ranging from no English and full Signing required to high English level ability and minimal signing. It actually worked quite well. They seemed to draw on each other’s strengths quite naturally. I learnt that having smaller groups of 2 or 3 make it much quicker to put a story together but the larger groups with 4 had a lot more stimulating and in-depth discussion.

Here is an example of a Bible story taken from Mark 2:1-12 where Jesus heals the paralysed man, narrated in Auslan by Donovan Mulligan, one of the participants in the workshop:

 

What feedback did the participants or other facilitators give?

Participants really liked how storyboarding made it so much easier to break down the story and translate it into sign language. However, most of them found the questions that accompanied the stories very difficult to understand and answer. I think they are generally happier with specific questions that require a set answer instead of questions that require them to give an opinion.

What was a highlight of the workshop?

We had a Deaf Iranian refugee come along. He isn’t a Christian yet but he really enjoyed the workshop. Even though he had no understanding of written English and has only been learning Auslan for 3 months, he came away with a brilliant story and presented it at the Deaf Rally on Sunday. It was the story of Jarius’ daughter and the healing of the woman who had suffered from severe bleeding for 12 years taken from Luke 8: 40-56. I think he was really touched by it all.

What are some of the bridges that you have made with your background growing up with Deaf parents and working as an interpreter and what are some of the barriers you have encountered in this ministry?

Being a CODA and fluent in Auslan is definitely a bridge in and of it itself. I find that Deaf people really really like stories and for the most part they are interested in discussions around religion. Being hearing is always going to be a barrier because I will always been seen as different. However, I find that most Deaf will respect you, if you sign well and take time to understand them.

What do you hope will happen in the future after the Auslan storytelling workshops have ended in Brisbane and Melbourne?

I’m hoping that people will take on these skills and continue to use them, in their churches and to reach out to other Deaf. I’m also hoping that those who were involved will teach others how to create Bible stories and how to share them  and perhaps even run workshops of their own. In essence, I’m hoping it doesn’t end but continues on and on where Deaf people will make disciples who in turn will make other disciples.

So when you have finished running all the Auslan Bible Storytelling workshops in Australia, what is the next step for you and your family?

So currently we’re doing deputation to head overseas with Wycliffe in September this year, God willing. Initially, it will be to the USA for at least a year to work on software development for sign language Bible translations around the world. Then, possibly we’ll be going to Europe and doing some work there. 

Saul will work on the WordSign project developing the 3D motion capture animation software as a software engineer. One important outcome of this software will be creating anonymity for the Deaf individuals who are involved in the translations. This will help solve a few issues such as protection of identity for those in sensitive areas and protect the final translation from issues such as tarnished reputations. 

As for me, I would like to use my experience in Deaf culture, sign language, literacy and interpreting to train Deaf translators and contribute to sign language linguistic research.

 

To read updates on Bec and Saul’s ministry or support their work in some way, feel free to visit their website http://saulbecnews.com

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