USA (MNN) — Do you know who your Deaf neighbors are? There is probably a Deaf community closer than you think. However, it can be difficult for hearing people to know how to engage the Deaf. There is a language barrier and even a cultural barrier between the hearing and Deaf communities.
JR Bucklew, President of Deaf Bible Society says despite these challenges, Christians have an obligation to reach the Deaf with the Gospel.
We often talk in ministry circles about equipping believers to pray, give, and go in missions. When it comes to the Deaf, Bucklew says, “This isn’t a people group that simply lives in a far-off land. These are people that live in our own backyards. How do we neighbor with our Deaf communities? We’re living in the same places. These are people we can’t just ignore. So what does ‘go’ mean for the everyday person?”
To answer that question, he offers some key strategies we can employ to engage, build relationships, and share Jesus with our Deaf neighbors.
Identify Your Local Deaf Community
First, to engage our local Deaf communities, we need to identify who the Deaf are in our communities. Deaf Bible Society has an online search tool called Deaf Church Where that identifies local Deaf churches and ministries across the United States. From there, you can contact these churches and ministries and ask about the needs in your local Deaf community.
You can also do some investigating in your own church, university campus, or community center and ask about Deaf outreach opportunities. Bucklew says it’s important to have more people asking questions and talking about the Deaf to raise awareness.
“During a panel discussion here at Indiana Wesleyan University, we asked one of the professors, ‘How many Deaf students do you have on campus?’ The answer was honest and it was, ‘We have no idea. On all the committees I sat on, I have never even heard the topic brought up.’
“The unfortunate reality is many religious schools and seminaries are so far behind because they don’t receive state or federal funding and they don’t ascribe to a lot of those financial models. They have more freedoms…but when it comes to ADA provisions, they’re not bound by that either and therefore they won’t provide interpreters to Deaf students.”
When we identify the Deaf in our communities and work to improve Deaf accessibility, it increases opportunities for hearing and Deaf Christians to connect with Deaf neighbors and share Jesus with them.
“Where do Deaf people go? What seminaries can they go to? Where can they be educated? How can we equip Deaf pastors to do their jobs well? It all starts at the basic neighborhood community, at the root…. How are we making our other hearing neighbors aware of the needs and of the realities of Deaf people in our communities?”
Learn and Ask Questions
Bucklew also emphasizes that in order to reach the Deaf with the Gospel, we need to engage them with humility.
“The biggest mistake I think that hearing people make when they begin to decide whether or not Deaf ministry is for them is oftentimes they go in it thinking, ‘Okay, we’re here, we’re the missionary, we know everything and here is what you need.’
“You can’t serve your neighbor well if you don’t know who they are, you don’t know where they’ve been, and you don’t know what their needs are. When we assume things, that’s when we always have those bad relationships with neighbors, right? We assumed that this is what’s going on in their life, and it wasn’t. The same applies to Deaf people in our communities.
Instead of making assumptions, Bucklew suggests getting to know our Deaf neighbors by asking questions.
“Rather, we really need to go in as learners. Our first priority should be to go in as a learner and to listen to what the Deaf community has to say, to listen to their pain, to their experiences…. Learn from them. Then say, ‘Here are all the skills that I have or that I feel like I have. Here is the education that I have. Here is what I have learned. What do you need from me?’”
Don’t Let Fear Stop You
Finally, engaging a new community of people can be intimidating. However, Bucklew says when it comes to Deaf outreach, don’t let fear stop you.
“The fear of you don’t want to be an inconvenience and maybe someone else is already doing it — that’s just part of the learning process. Engage! Make a phone call. Send an email. You making a phone call to the Deaf pastor is not going to be a hindrance in any way. The technology is there. It will connect you to an interpreter on the line that’s already paid for.
“Let them say, ‘No, JR, it’s okay, someone has filled that role. What we really need is this.’ And then you’re able to say, ‘You know what? That is something I can really pray about doing,’ or ‘well, I can’t really do that, but I have the ability to give so this person over here can do that.’”
One thing that helps overcome fear is to start praying for the Deaf before you reach out. As you pray, God can stir compassion and grant humility needed to engage. Pray for Gospel opportunities with your Deaf neighbors and for the Lord to give you wisdom in outreach.
“The needs of the Deaf community when it comes to engagement are so great,” Bucklew reflects. “There [are] so many Deaf people right here in our own backyard that don’t know who Jesus is. Don’t let your fear be a burden [preventing] them [from] learning who Christ is.”