In seminary I had a class from C. Peter Wagner: “Strategies For World Evangelization.” It was a church growth class on a global scale. We learned about “unreached people groups” within countries all over the world. I kind of filed that approach away in my mind. Then, many years later I became aware of an unreached people group right here in the United States (and worldwide) that I had never heard identified. Here is how I came to know about this group.
A lady in our church called me one day to ask me to pray for her new little granddaughter who had a severe hearing impairment; in fact, she was deaf. From time to time the grandmother would bring the little one to our church and she would take her to the nursery. Pretty soon, the whole family came to church on a fairly regular basis. Our nursery folks took good care of little, blonde Amy, but when she was four she outgrew our nursery department. I vividly remember the first morning after she turned four. As I stepped to the pulpit I dismissed the children 4 years through 5th grade to our great children’s church. I saw Amy’s grandmother walk hand-in-had with her out of the sanctuary to take her to her class. As I saw them go, tears came to my eyes, and I had a hard time getting into my sermon, because my heart broke when I realized we were not prepared to teach a deaf child about Jesus. From then on, her grandmother, and later her mother, tried to help by going with Amy and signing to her what the teacher said. They were gracious about it, but I knew it wasn’t enough, and it also meant that one of them had to miss worship every week they came.
About this time, I found out about a ministry called Silent Blessings, which had been founded by a college classmate of mine, Marshall Lawrence. He understood the problems of deaf people better than I ever could, because his daughter is deaf. He offered some breakout sessions on ministry to the deaf at our annual denominational convention. For the first time, I got a glimpse of understanding that the deaf community is an unreached people group who live among the rest of us. Around 30 million Americans have significant hearing loss. Turns out only about 2% of deaf people know Christ as Savior, and most churches have nothing for them. Less than 5% of churches have any outreach to the deaf and usually that consists of offering sign translation of the sermon. While that is helpful, it is not nearly enough, especially for those who were born deaf. A child who grows up deaf will probably never hear the Bible stories most of us take for granted, so when a sermon is signed to them as an adult, they often don’t have enough background to understand it very well.
Marshall also introduced a deaf pastor and some deaf believers to the breakout sessions. It was delightful to hear their testimonies through translators. What’s more is they had a deaf service two nights of the convention and that was a real eye-opener to me. More precisely, it was an ear opener. Even though they couldn’t hear, they still praised God through music. They loved to feel the beat, which requires the volume to be turned up very loudly.
Our church tried to make accommodations for Amy. I shared my concern about Amy and the deaf with our people and many of them understood the problem. Amy’s mother and a friend taught sign language and several of the children took the classes and really tried to communicate with Amy. We had Marshall come and share his ministry with us. I took two free ASL classes at the local college, but when you aren’t around a deaf person all the time, it’s hard to approach proficiency. Anyway, about the time I finished my classes, Amy’s family moved away and we only saw her when she came to visit her grandmother.
Our church wanted to do something that would reach deaf people, but we ran against problems that are common to people who want to reach this community:
1. The deaf community is tight knit.
2. They are self-sufficient.
3. They have a hard time trusting the hearing community.
4. They don’t consider their affliction as a handicap, or even an affliction, and they don’t like being treated as handicapped.
5. They speak a foreign language called ASL, American Sign Language.
Families with deaf children have unique problems:
1. Nearly 95% of all deaf children have hearing parents.
2. Only about 10% of those parents ever learn enough sign language to hold a conversation with their children.
3. They have to make very difficult decisions concerning treatment and education. Right choices are not clear-cut. They are far reaching, and there’s a lot of conflicting advice.
What I would like my readers to do:
1. Please pray for this enormous, largely ignored unreached people group.
2. Educate yourself about the deaf community. A great first step is to visit the Silent Blessings website, silentblessings.org.
3 Check out the children’s television program that Silent Blessings produces, “Dr. Wonder’sWorkshop.” It’s an amazing tool God is using to teach deaf kids about Jesus. If you can’t find it on your TV listings, check out samples at silentblessings.org.
4. Give to folks who are on the mission to the deaf community like Silent Blessings
5. Consider having Marshall Lawrence come to share his burden for the deaf with your church, small group, or club. He will open your eyes and touch your heart with this great ministry.