“I have been young, and now am old” (Psalm 37:25). Experience can be a good teacher. When I began in the deaf ministry in 1976, there was much about the deaf ministry that I did not know. Maybe you have realized some of these things for yourself. If so, consider respectfully sharing some of your experiences with Deaf and hearing people around you.
When I began in the deaf ministry…
I wish I had known that most hearing people who begin learning sign language will not continue more than 5 years. Over the years many deaf ministries have been started, and many have not continued or grown. The deaf ministry requires dedication. Many people
think sign language is “beautiful” or “neat.” Once the newness is gone, many deaf ministry signers just quit. This can be very disappointing to deaf people in the church.
I wish I had known that most people would not understand deaf ministry. The deaf ministry is more than sign language. Interpreting is more than just signing words. Deaf ministry requires hearing people to learn an entirely different culture. It requires sacrifice of time and relationships to fully immerse yourself into the Deaf world. Some of your friends may misunderstand and think you have become addicted to sign language. Church members may think you have abandoned them and joined a clique. Church leaders may think you have become very demanding when you ask for the order of service several days early. Deaf people may accuse you of “forcing” them to come to church and follow the Bible. Others may even say you are trying to usurp the pastor’s authority and become the pastor to the deaf (even though you may not even be qualified to be a pastor).
I wish I had known that the deaf ministry requires more workers and helpers than most other ministries in the church. For example, a
bus ministry needs a driver and a captain to bring 30-40 people to church, a Sunday School class has a teacher and a helper to teach 10-20 students, a Children’s Church program has ateacher and 2 or 3 helpers for a group of 20-30children, but the deaf ministry can requireseveral interpreters for even 1 or 2 Deafpeople. Many deaf ministries must alsoprovide transportation to and from eachchurch service. This requires more workers.
I wish I had known that interpreters are not able to stop and consider how the pastor’s message applies to themselves. Interpreters must focus on interpreting and communicating. An effective deaf ministry should have several interpreters, helpers, and teachers so they can rotate responsibilities and have the opportunity to receive a blessing from at least one church service per week.
I wish I had known that very few hearing people would learn a few signs to communicate with the Deaf people in their church. Naturally, not everyone can become skilled signers, but often only the interpreters are able to communicate with the Deaf. It is very common that even church leaders never attempt to communicate with Deaf members!
I wish I had known that the deaf ministry was more about the heart than the hands. Actually, the leaders in our first deaf ministry emphasized reaching and teaching deaf people. Through the years, in many ministries interpreting skill and professionalism seem to have replaced the original heart for the deaf. Signing skill is more important today than ever before, but a caring heart is also required for effective ministry to deaf people. Thankfully, both heart and hands are important in order to have an effective deaf ministry.
I wish I had known that the deaf ministry requires a special burden or call. Some say they have a particular call to the Deaf World, but many others are also burdened for reaching Deaf people. Faithful deaf ministry workers continue because God has put them in the ministry. Their location may change, others may quit, some people will not support them or will turn away from them. But faithful deaf ministry workers continue – not because it is popular; not because they will become highly respected; not because they will see great success. They continue because they must continue. It is God’s will that Deaf people “hear the words of the book” (Isaiah 29:18)!
I wish I had known that one of the greatest joys in life is to stay in the deaf ministry long enough to see those I have influenced and taught become successful leaders and deaf ministry workers. The Deaf ministry is not an overnight success. It may never be large. But it is a needed ministry. It may take 10, 20, or 30 years of ministry to see fruit. More faithful Deaf and hearing people are needed. Faithfulness is required for an effective deaf ministry. Jesus taught, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” (Matthew 25:40). Deaf ministry workers can experience a unique joy of serving the Lord in a way that very few others will know.
I’m glad God put me into the deaf ministry!