Whenever Christians engage the Deaf sensitively and respectfully, their efforts please Christ. To fulfill Christ’s mandate, believers must engage the Deaf community. Regardless of Christians’ initial knowledge of sign language or Deaf culture, all of us can take steps to educate ourselves and to disciple the Deaf.
Here are eight ways to help you get started:
UNDERSTAND THIER DAILY LIFE
Did you know most Deaf people install flashing alarms in their houses so that they can see sounds—the doorbell ringing or the fire alarm sounding? To wake up, they often use a vibrating alarm clock that shakes the entire bed. Some use trained dogs that wag their tails or nudge their owner to notify them of various sounds, like the microwave dinging, a baby crying, or a police siren.
ENTER THEIR PERSONAL SPACE
Hearing people can talk to each other from a distance, but Deaf people have very different rules for personal space. They wave, tap, flash the lights, or stomp on a wooden floor to get their friend’s attention. Offer consistent eye contact and visual attention when talking with a Deaf person, responding with facial expressions to show you are engaged in the conversation.
“TALK” TO THEM
A videophone allows Deaf people to chat through a camera mounted to their TV—similar to Skype, but without the audio. A Deaf person who wants to talk to a hearing person (or vice versa) will use a videophone to call through a relay service. They sign to the interpreter on the screen, and the interpreter voices their message to the hearing person. The interpreter then signs the hearing person’s reply.
LEARN THEIR CULTURE
Deaf culture is expressed through films, folklore, literature, dance, athletics, poetry, celebrations, clubs, organizations, theaters, and school reunions. To learn more about Deaf culture, check out some of the following resources:
Deaf Performing Arts Network (DPAN.com)
History through Deaf Eyes (DeafEyes.Gallaudet.edu)
National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD.org)
American Society for Deaf Children (DeafChildren.org)
National Association of the Deaf (NAD.org)
International Committee of Sports for the Deaf (Deaflympics.com)
Gallaudet University (Gallaudet.edu)
Does your church have a Deaf ministry? If so, you have access to Deaf people every week. Why not sit with the Deaf members of your church or try signing the worship songs? Although it is important to learn ASL and to be sensitive to Deaf culture, friendliness can communicate your love regardless of your native language.
I remember one of the greeters at my home church intentionally shaking the hands of the Deaf people who arrived. A smile, a wave, a handshake, or a hug welcomes the Deaf person into your congregation. Invite them to coffee, arrange a playdate between their kids and yours. Too often hearing people—because they don’t know what to do or are afraid they’ll do it “wrong”—make no overtures to the Deaf, but doing something trumps doing nothing every time.
JOIN FORCES WITH OTHERS
Does your church hold outreach events for the community? Consider hiring an interpreter and letting the community know interpretation will be available. You can also partner with a local Deaf church (or a hearing church with a Deaf ministry) and plan the event together. Even if no Deaf attend, your congregation will broaden their perspective on discipleship.
GIVE YOUR SUPPORT
Help your church consider adding Deaf missionaries to their support work. Some mission agencies have groups within their organization that reach out to the Deaf. DOOR (Deaf Opportunity OutReach) International (DOORInternational.com) exists to bring God’s Word and Christian fellowship to Deaf communities worldwide. Wycliffe (Wycliffe.org/deaf) utilizes Deaf signers from around the world to help them translate Scripture into various signed languages. Deaf Missions (DeafMissions.com) strives to equip Deaf pastors and teachers with online resources.
SPEAK THEIR “LANGUAGE”
Have you ever wanted to learn ASL? Take a class or two at a community college. After learning some basic vocabulary and grammar, volunteer with Deaf elementary students or Deaf senior citizens. Both groups will welcome the company.
Carole Brenton, a member of Wycliffe USA assigned to support the work of DOOR International in Africa, has worked with and among the Deaf in the United States for the past thirty-five years. “Deaf people are usually the last to know anything,” she explains. “They don’t overhear anything, and they frequently struggle with reading. As a result, the Deaf have many misunderstandings about God and the Bible.” The work of missionaries like Brenton would be much easier if the rest of us were already sharing the love of God with our Deaf neighbors.
By Sarita Fowler (ThM, 2014). Used with permission.