The Deaf – What you Don’t Know About the Largest Unreachable People Group in the World!
This morning as I finish this blog, I’m in Kenya staring out my hotel window, thinking about the Deaf. They are one of the largest unreached people groups in the world – 30-60 million! The Core Deaf are not hard of hearing, or hearing people who’ve lost their ability to hear, but people who have never heard a sound and whose only language is sign language.
So why am I in Kenya thinking about the Deaf and why should you bother reading the balance of this blog?
To my shame, eighteen years ago, I knew nothing about the Deaf except the guilt I felt living across the street from a Deaf kid when I grew up who I thought was retarded because he spoke funny. I know you’re not supposed to use the word retarded anymore, but God forgive me that’s what I thought of him. And, I’m guessing most of you are as clueless as I was about the Deaf, that’s why this blog.
So, I’m asking you to take ten minutes to get some understanding of this unique people group. My guess is that you know a Deaf person or have a friend who does and they may need you to be their advocate. (Later in this blog, I’ll give you some practical ideas of how you can help a Deaf person.) Here’s what I didn’t know and I doubt you do either:
DOOR International (Deaf Opportunity Out Reach) For the last eighteen years my primary ministry outside of West Michigan where I live, has been helping the Deaf translate the Bible into sign language. I’m the founding Chairman of DOOR International. Our primary campus is in Nairobi, Kenya with a second in India.
Between the two campuses, over 200 Deaf and hearing staff work 8-12-hour days to bring God’s word to the Deaf of the world. Watch this powerful video to get a better understating for what we do and how. http://www.doorinternational.com/
You may be surprised to know that there isn’t a single Deaf Bible (DVD or video) in any sign language, including American Sign Language anywhere in the world that has been approved by Wycliffe, the largest and oldest Bible translation ministry in the world, except those which have been completed by DOOR. If you’d like to see what a Deaf Bible looks like go to www.deafbibles.com and click on any country flag and follow the prompts. Understanding Deaf culture • By most estimates 97% of the world’s Deaf cannot read or write. That means they cannot read the Bible, gospel literature or even closed captioning on TV or Christian films. • Almost no Deaf read lips effectively. There are excellent schools in the U.S. and Western Europe who try to teach Deaf to read lips with some success, but more than 98% of the world’s Deaf live outside of these areas. • Only 1/10 of 1% of the world’s Deaf attend church. They believe “religion is for hearing people”. • Even if your church has a ministry of signing sermons to the Deaf, they understand less than 1/3 of what’s being said, because the Deaf learn differently than hearing people do. They find signed sermons very confusing, but often that’s their only source of biblical truth. • Almost no parents of Deaf children, even in the U.S. learn enough sign language to have a conversation about spiritual or moral things with their children. Therefore, the Deaf are the only people group in the world who do not learn their moral and spiritual worldviews from their parents. • Deaf do not consider themselves to be handicapped. When they are with each other, they can do anything hearing people can do. They have a language barrier, but they bristle at the idea they are a disability group. • Deaf are the poorest of the poor in any country with unemployment or significant underemployment worldwide estimated at nearly 85%!
How you can be an advocate for the Deaf Take a few minutes right now and ask God to give you greater sensitivity for the Deaf and to open your eyes to the Deaf around you. I’m not asking you to do anything more than that unless God impresses you to do something more.
If he does, here are several action steps you could take:
1. Take a few minutes right now to ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of any Deaf person who may need your help. Perhaps you have a friend who has a Deaf granddaughter or a fellow employee with a Deaf family member, or you recall a Deaf person who used to attend your church.
2. If God brings anyone to mind, then I’d recommend you go to the website of a wonderful partner ministry completely run by Deaf Christians, and purchase several wonderful evangelism DVD’s in American Sign Language. They’re only $5.00. Go to http://www.sgdeafchurch.org/?video
The two I’d recommend are:
The Godman – this is a wonderful overview of God’s story of redemption produced by the Book of Hope and DOOR. Even your hearing children will enjoy it and it’s a great opportunity to teach your children or grandchildren greater understanding and sensitivity for Deaf culture.
Connect God How? – This is a quality gospel summary in American Sign Language that gives any Deaf person enough information to become a follower of Jesus.
Consider purchasing a few DVD’s for your church, for if and when a Deaf person attends and consider making a bulletin announcement to let your church members know these resources are available. Somebody will need and want them! Be ready!
3. Ask your church to put the following announcement in your church bulletin at least twice a year.
If you know of someone who is Deaf, they can view a portion of the Deaf video Bible in American Sign Language, entitled The Evangelism Series by going to www.deafbibles.com.
4. Consider being an advocate for a Deaf person. Most Deaf are unemployed or underemployed and need people like you to help them get an interview and a chance. If you know or notice a Deaf person approach them and ask if there’s anything they need. It’s a dangerous question, but just the kind Jesus would have asked if he hadn’t already known the answer.
I know this feels awkward – really out of your comfort zone. I felt the same way many years ago. But, in the words of Paul, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:15-15
Question: We don’t know what we don’t know. What did you learn in this blog that really surprised you?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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