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A first-of-its-kind digital talking Bible that fits in the palm of the user’s hand is the newest service offered to blind persons and the visually impaired by the Lutheran Braille Evangelism Association (LBEA), White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
“Portability and access at any time are the features people like best about the digital Bible,” says Pastor Dennis Hawkinson, executive director of LBEA. “It runs on two AA batteries and has twelve keys numbered in high-contrast yellow (for those with some sight). Users hear synthetically generated speech.
“Most users memorize the key pad. At a Bible study group we can look up passages before sighted people can. The Braille Bible is too heavy to carry around. It has eighteen 11.5 x 12-inch volumes, ranging up to four inches thick.”
His wife, Barbara Hawkinson, LBEA secretary, says the new Bible is “like a mini-computer. We feel it’s wonderful how God uses modern technologies to help make life easier for the disabled.” The Hawkinsons stress that the Braille Bible will continue to be available for those who prefer it and for those who are deaf as well as blind.
Since its appearance in mid-June 2000, 35 digital talking Bibles have been distributed by LBEA, including one going to Thailand with a missionary. The hand-held Bibles are available in either King James or New American Standard (1995 translation) versions, produced by a California firm, Ostrich Software.
Lutheran Braille Evangelism was founded in 1952 by John Gustav Erickson, White Bear Lake. Led by Dennis Hawkinson since 1988, the non-profit, pan-Lutheran organization is funded by gifts from individuals and churches.
LBEA does not serve Lutherans only. Under its mission statement, “Helping the Sightless See the Savior,” LBEA also sends its materials to non-Christians, says Barbara Haw-kinson, “in the hope that they will come to learn about Christ.”
Pastor Hawkinson assists new users of the digital Bible. “I show them that a power search is possible and that this Bible is not just linear. For example, they can jump from Exodus to Ephesians, and they can set an unlimited number of bookmarks.
“The top row of numbers is keyed to Bible verses: 1, going back; 2, play or stop; 3, forward. Row 4-6 is keyed to chapters, and row 7-9 to books of the Bible. The lower row of keys handles volume and a sleep timer. Spelling and pronunciation functions are included, too.”
Accompanied by his guide dog, Alex, Pastor Hawkinson preaches in area churches on request, describing the work of LBEA. With the new Bible, he has the ability simultaneously to listen to digital texts or lessons and share them orally with the congregation, somewhat like a simultaneous translator.
Dennis Hawkinson attended Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota, and was ordained by the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in 1971. He served Fish Lake Lutheran and Spring Lake Lutheran Church in North Branch and Cambridge until his eyesight began to deteriorate due to retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition of the retina. He retains the ability to discern light and dark.
“According to the latest statistics, there are five million blind persons in the United States,” Pastor Hawkinson says. “Overseas, records aren’t well maintained, but missionaries report that blindness is widespread, caused by disease, malnutrition, injury, and by parasites that can afflict the water supply. These people, too, need to hear the word of God.”
LBEA serves clients nationally and worldwide. A twelve-member board of directors consisting of both blind and sighted men and women meets quarterly to oversee this ministry.
In addition to the digital Bible and the Braille volumes, LBEA offers large-print Bibles and publishes two monthly magazines, The Christian Mag-nifier in large print or audio cassette, and The Tract Messenger in Braille. Confirmation and Sunday school materials are special-order items, as are large print and Braille hymnals.
Because LBEA offers the digital Bibles below retail price and takes financial need into consideration, Lutheran congregations have a social ministry opportunity. “We need prayers and support,” Barbara Hawkinson says.
For further information, or to order, contact Pastor Dennis or Barbara Hawkinson at LBEA, 1740 Eugene Street, White Bear Lake, Minnesota 55110, or phone 651/426-0469.