- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

The following excerpts are from a recent sermon delivered by the Rev. Terry Buchholz at Hampshire View Baptist Deaf Church in Silver Spring.

In order to successfully preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the deaf, you have to communicate with them in their native language: American Sign Language (ASL). Deaf people communicate in a different language from hearing people. So when a hearing person speaks English, the deaf don’t understand and cannot hear him. It is only through an interpreter that the deaf are able to communicate with the hearing.

Several pastors faced the dilemma of starting work with deaf people that they know absolutely nothing about. Most pastors have never met a deaf person before, and many would perplexedly ponder the best method to reach them. The answer is that deaf preachers must preach the Word of God to the deaf in their own language.

In 1814, the Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, the father of deaf education, was greatly burdened to communicate the Gospel to a little deaf girl named Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet was able to teach Alice few words but unable to teach her about Jesus Christ. So, he went to Europe in search of the best way to teach the deaf to read the Bible. He brought back a deaf teacher from France and developed ASL into, what I believe was led by Holy Spirit, the most effective communication tool. Several signs like “saved” are developed from the concept of freeing arms from the shackles of sin. In the beginning, the influence on the deaf community was profoundly religious.

It is interesting to note that in the day of Pentecost when the apostles boldly preach the Gospel that the recipients actually heard the Gospel in their own language. The best way to reach a particular people is to use their own language. That is why thousands of missionaries must learn their languages before starting their work among them.

Those who study history will note that under colonialism, missionary work ended in failure because they tried to convert the natives by having them learn and speak English. Nowhere in the Bible teaches us that “we are to go and teach them to speak English.” The apostles preached the Gospel in their native languages and were met with great success. Gallaudet preached the Gospel in ASL to the deaf, and thousands converted to Christianity.

In the modern missionary movement, national pastors have a better chance of reaching their own people than the missionaries we send. This is because those national pastors are fluent users of the native language used by the people.

Jesus Christ Himself set a precept in how to best minister to the deaf in His encounter with a deaf man. Instead of using the deaf man as sideshow or ministry prop, He actually communicated with a deaf person in gestures. I wonder why Jesus Christ could not have just healed him before trying to communicate with him? Why be away from the crowd? I believe it is because Jesus is showing us the best method of communicating with the deaf and recognizing the uniqueness of a deaf person’s isolation from the world.

The Gospel’s numerous opportunities made available to millions of hearing people are not available in the deaf world. Most deaf adults and children have not once in their lifetimes attended vacation bible school or any of the church’s children’s programs like Sunday school and bus ministry. They have not listened to the Gospel from Christian media like radio, television and movies because those are not close-captioned. The neglect is staggering.

Thousands of churches give millions of dollars to missionary work among the world but have not with great success reached the deaf. If you were to gather all deaf together into one country, it would be the fifth-largest country in the world. It is possible that the deaf in the world numbers at least 100 million persons.

Matthew 28:19 says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The deaf are included in “all nations.”

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