In 2004, the North American Division invited a number of Deaf Adventists to a Deaf assessment meeting. Deaf members themselves shared with church leaders information about their culture and explained the unique needs of Deaf ministry. Attendees created a list of challenges and/or barriers that most Deaf encounter in the church. The good news is that these barriers can be broken down!
Since church interpreters are a major link between the Deaf and hearing worlds, they can help chisel away at some of these barriers. These barriers that interpreters can help chip away are:
Limited Access to Information/Services: Simply by interpreting, you are providing access to information/services. Interpreted church services is certainly a step in the right direction. Camp meetings or special meetings are rarely interpreted, so Deaf people often do not even consider attending. As events are scheduled, see if Deaf individuals have interest in these meetings and see what arrangements can be made so that they are interpreted. Please note: the Deaf should have a voice as to who they prefer as an interpreter. Also keep in mind that Deaf members might desire to attend other church functions such as business meetings, socials, and other activities.
Lack of Networking: Imagine if you moved to a country and you did not speak the local language. Your only option for worshiping the Lord with like believers is to attend church with members with whom you can not communicate with. Week after week, year after year. Wouldn't you begin to long for the opportunity to worship with someone who spoke your language? Deaf people have this very same longing.
Network Deaf members with other Deaf believers. There are Deaf Adventist camp meetings, Big Days, churches with Deaf members, etc. Many Deaf members stay in touch by video phone, email, Facebook, and many other avenues. Some even have Bible studies together by video phone. You can foster networking by communicating with nearby SDA churches; inform them of your church's interpreted services and see if they have Deaf members/interpreted services. Our ministry also provides networking between Deaf members, so be sure to get in touch with us.
Attitudes Towards Deaf People: Deaf people suffer from negative attitudes toward them. Too many of our church members make assumptions about Deaf people and lump them altogether under a certain stereotype. Many think of Deaf individuals as pitiful with low IQs, incapable of functioning on their own. They are viewed as being naive, ignorant, or simple. Others do not necessarily feel this way, but they are terrified to talk with them. They look the other way or look right through Deaf people. This hurts, too. Interpreters can help open the eyes of the hearing members so that they see Deaf people as individuals much like themselves.
Lack of Opportunities: Help open up opportunities to Deaf person(s) within the church. These could include business meetings, socials, other activities, or serving the church. Not all Deaf people want to serve in the church. But if they are willing, there are many things they can do. Hearing often judge Deaf as incapable due to their hearing loss. What Can Deaf do in the church? They can do many things! They can serve as deacons and deaconesses, even as an elder. They can tell children's story, sign a song for special music, and read the mission story. They can work behind the scenes, such as helping clean the church, prepare foods, or create the church bulletin. Deafness does not preclude anyone from receiving spiritual gifts from God.
Educating the Local Church: You have a unique opportunity to educate church members about Deaf ministry, the special needs, and Deaf culture in general. Think of ways to get your church excited about the privilege of having Deaf members. Team up with the Deaf member(s) and teach others ASL. Our booklet Can You Hear Us? is a great resource to share with church members. Perhaps you could invite a special Deaf speaker to speak on Sabbath morning or maybe have a workshop on Deaf Awareness and Ministry with a special speaker. There are many things that can be done. Be creative. Educating the church will open doors for the Deaf member(s).
Please feel free to contact us for help and/or ideas of what you can do in your church.