30 million deaf waiting to hear gospel from their own, leaders say

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--One people group -- numbering 30 million worldwide -- will never hear the good news of God's love, even if a missionary knocks on their door.

They will never hear because they are deaf. Isolated socially and immersed in a culture radically different from the hearing world, the deaf have little hope of even learning about Christ, much less understanding the gospel and receiving him as Lord and Savior.

That's why five leaders from the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf met with leaders from the International Mission Board March 7-13 for the first Global Summit Meeting on Deaf Church Planting.

In that meeting, the SBCD task force and IMB leaders forged a partnership to direct more missionary outreach to deaf populations worldwide. They discussed the possibility of developing training methods and creating a center to prepare Southern Baptists to witness more effectively to deaf people. They also talked about setting up a network that could match missionary requests for outreach teams with church teams ready to serve.

Members of the 73 deaf Southern Baptist congregations and 555 deaf ministries probably don't realize how powerful their witness overseas would be, said Phillip Easterling, pastor of Birmingham (Ala.) Community Deaf Church.

"Deaf-to-deaf witnessing is most effective because of the understanding of the language and the culture that deaf people share," Easterling said. "Sometimes it's hard for a hearing person to win deaf people to Christ but when it's a deaf person to another deaf person, it's much quicker. It's like a magnet, something draws them.

"I have been to Romania six times for missions projects," he said. "Each time, deaf people would listen to our Bible teaching for four or five hours on a Sunday morning, then eat lunch with us and come back for more teaching. They would follow us to our rooms at night and sit on the floor and listen to our stories, stay until the early hours of the morning, sometimes even sleeping on the floor, because we were all deaf."

Deaf people have a credibility with other deaf that hearing people will never gain, no matter how well they speak sign language, said Jeff Jackson, pastor to the deaf at First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He noted, for example, that a hearing missionary who served among the deaf in Haiti saw a dozen saved in 10 or 12 years. When an outreach team of deaf Christians came from the United States, however, 100 deaf in the community came to Christ in just one week.

Members of a deaf club in the Czech Republic were fascinated when a wheelchair-bound American Christian came to visit them and share her testimony in sign language, Easterling said.

The Czech group was stunned that 90-year-old Lillian Beard would travel all the way from Houston, Texas. They wanted to see her passport to prove her age and took pictures of her because they knew others wouldn't believe them.

Several of the deaf noticed Beard demonstrated an unusual spirit of joy. One of them, an older woman named Anna, knelt in front of her and asked, "Why do you have that glow on your face? Older people here don't have that."

When Beard replied that her joy came from having Jesus in her life, Anna said, "I want that," and prayed to receive Christ.

"We want to encourage deaf churches to move up to a new level, become more focused on missions," said Aric Randolph of New Life Deaf Fellowship in Fort Worth, Texas. "We want them to move past the stage of supporting missions and learn how to work in missions themselves."

"Deaf Southern Baptists can reach their own people through their own language," added Daniel Johnson, a minister to the deaf at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, N.C.

"The deaf are empowered to witness to their own people and plant churches. They don't have to depend on hearing people to do it. They can do it themselves."


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HOW WILL THEY HEAR?

-- For information on outreach to the Deaf, contact Phillip Easterling at wpeasterling@cs.com, Aric Randolph at aricnldf@aol.com, or Bob Barker at bbark7@aol.com.

-- Testimonies about Deaf outreach: http://www.imb.org/ime/gods_world/bp/deafword.htm

-- Download a PowerPoint presentation on Deaf outreach: http://www.imb.org/ime/downloads/wpim_3.ppt

-- Search missionary needs for Deaf outreach: http://www.imb.org/FPNeeds/assignment.asp

-- Find out how God can work all around the world through you: http://www.imb.org/you

The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (www.imb.org/ime/LMCO).

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