Monday, June 18, 2012

Ministry to the Deaf

There are over 750,000 deaf people in America. They are among the most unevangelized people groups. Fewer than 8 out of every 100 deaf people in the US ever attend church. Fewer than 4 out of 100 claim a personal relationship with Christ.
Ministry to the deaf is complex. One reason is that deaf people who use American Sign Language (ASL) form a distinct culture. The Deaf have unique legends, social customs and experiences. 
Like other people with disabilities, the Deaf have been discriminated against in their jobs and are often left out, ignored or mistreated. Past experience may make them wary of your motives. They also tend to be straight forward and blunt in their communications.
Another complexity is that deaf ministry is a family affair. Ninety percent of deaf children have parents with normal hearing, but only about one out of 10 of those parents can carry on a conversation in ASL. Most of these parents begin with little knowledge about the deaf world and are unaware of available resources. They feel overwhelmed by the challenges of raising a deaf child and feel alone in their struggles.
Children who have a Deaf parent are bicultural and often find themselves torn between two worlds. Like all bicultural children they have challenges and issues that are difficult to understand.
Children who have a Deaf sibling often feel they have to compete with the deaf child for parental attention and can become resentful. They usually learn sign language better than the parents and find themselves serving as interpreters between the parents and their deaf siblings.
Mixed marriages between hearing and deaf people face challenges as they try to blend deaf and hearing cultures and lifestyles and families together.
Baptist Temple has been blessed with the privilege to host the San Antonio Baptist Deaf Mission; a work started 20 years ago by the San Antonio Baptist Association (SABA). Baptist Temple did not not invite them. They were sent to us by God.
Several weeks ago the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) called to ask if we were interested in hosting this mission. We were recommended as a church with a heart for ministry by Patty Villareal, a professor at the Baptist University of the Americas.
The Missions Committee enthusiastically recommended that we do this. The church responded with a similar spirit and the vote to host the Deaf Mission passed without opposition.
The San Antonio Baptist Deaf Mission is an independent church sharing our facilities. They will be part of our Sunday School and other ministries but will hold their own worship service in FLC101 at 11 AM on Sundays.
The mission is led by John and Mary Ann Richey (both hearing) and currently numbers around 40 with an average attendance of around 25. We expect the move to Baptist Temple to generate excitement and allow us to minster to more deaf people and their families. They had their first worship service at BT this past Sunday and had four first time visitors.
Deaf churches are rare. Most deaf ministries involve having a deaf interpreter translate a service that is primarily intended for the hearing. This is certainly polite but not empowering. A true deaf church holds its own worship service, has its own officers and determines its own destiny as led by the Holy Spirit.
We are blessed to be able to partner with people who expand our ability to spread the gospel.