Don’t Forget the Deaf
A mission field is often thought of as only a foreign country. However, it can also be a people with a foreign language and a foreign culture. Deaf people’s languages and Deaf cultures worldwide are different from hearing languages and cultures. In many ways, they are isolated from the Gospel, even in areas that have highly evangelistic ministries. The same as all other people groups, Deaf people need to know the Gospel. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” – Mark 16:15
Language – “All the world” includes Deaf people. Knowing this, many foreign missionaries are now trying to reach out to the Deaf people in their countries. It has been said that deafness is a communication handicap. Helen Keller said, “I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus – the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.” Sign language is unique because it is not a spoken language, but is a visual language. In 1960, William C. Stokoe, Jr., Founder of Sign Language Linguistics, wrote the first modern book describing American Sign Language (ASL) as a language.* After many years of educating the public about sign language, ASL is now recognized by most American educational systems and is taught as a foreign language.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” – Matthew 28:19
The word nations does not mean country with a government, but it means groups of people. Germans have a common language and culture, even though they may live outside of Germany. Koreans have a common language and culture, even though they may live in America. Deaf people in any country have common languages and culture. Even the United Nations recognizes Deaf Culture.** Deaf people tend to highly value Deaf Culture. In my opinion this is not because it makes them different, but it is part of their shared experiences and identity. In America, there are still multitudes of Deaf people who do not have the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In my many years of experience as a missionary, I have observed a great misunderstanding between the two worlds of the Deaf and the hearing. Some Deaf people have even said that church is a “hearing” activity, and not for the Deaf.
“Thou shalt not curse the deaf…” – Leviticus 19:14
Most would agree, it is not right to make fun of deaf people, not right to ignore deaf people, not right to injure or harm deaf people. In the same way, it is not right to hide the Gospel from deaf people or for churches to neglect them. Helen Keller also said, “Blindness separates us from things but deafness separates us from people.” When churches ignore deaf people, they isolate them from the Gospel. It seems that very few “hearing” organizations, Bible colleges, and churches emphasize the need of reaching the deaf. If the Lord had time in His busy life to witness to one deaf person, so can we (Mark 7:32). Deaf people in America and other countries should have the opportunity to see the Gospel presented in their own language. Hearing people should not neglect or disregard Deaf people. Some churches are now openly stating that their missions programs must only focus on church planting and not deaf ministries. It is possible for a deaf person to live near a Gospel-preaching church and still die and go to Hell because they were neglected. It is time to recognize the Deaf as a legitimate culture and language group, to openly share the Gospel with them in their language, and to welcome them into the church.
While preaching recently at Harvest Deaf Bible College chapel, I asked the question, “Do Deaf people have a language?” The group all together signed a strong, “Yes!” I asked, “Do Deaf people have a unique culture?” Again, the answer was another strong, “Yes!” Then I asked, “Do Deaf people have a country?” The group paused, then signed, “Every country.” Just because Deaf people do not live in just one country does not mean they should be ignored.
Church “AND” Ministry
There are several “Deaf Churches” around America. SWM Missionaries Paul and Rachel Strosnider are planting a deaf church in the St. Louis, Missouri area. However, many areas may not have enough Deaf people to plant a deaf church. There is a great need for Deaf and hearing men to teach and preach God’s Word to the Deaf. Since many Deaf people in America learned ASL as their first language, English is often their second language. Many have told me English can be hard to understand. Some only understand and learn the Bible as it is signed through teaching, preaching, or interpreting.
“Because they have lost their hearing, must they also lose their souls?”
At SWM, our purpose and calling is to take God’s Word to the Deaf. SWM helps deaf churches, deaf ministries, deaf individuals, and hearing people who are involved. Does your church have a deaf ministry? Does your church support missionaries to the Deaf? Let Silent Word Ministries help your church reach Deaf people with the Gospel and teach them the Word of God. Contact me for more information.