TOCCOA, Ga. (BP)--The Deaf should be in the multitude when, as the Book of Revelation depicts it, every language, people, tribe and nation will worship the Lamb around the throne, says Aric Randolph of New Life Deaf Fellowship in Fort Worth, Texas.
But, the Deaf pastor asks, "How will the Deaf be there if they don't know Jesus?
"Right now, there are about 35 million Deaf all over the world," Randolph notes. "Every day, 750 Deaf die without knowing Jesus. To be His hands, His heart and to tell His story, we must truly embrace the Deaf of the world."
New Life Deaf Fellowship is planning a short-term mission trip -- possibly to the Deaf in a high-risk country. "We go to let them know about Jesus. We go so they can know Jesus as Savior. We go to let them know they, too, can be in heaven," Randolph said.
More than 400 Deaf Southern Baptists gathered in Toccoa, Ga., July 16-21 for the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf (SBCD) and to witness the commissioning of six International Mission Board missionaries to work with the Deaf.
IMB President Tom Elliff shared his burden for the millions of Deaf around the world who have never "seen" the name Jesus, challenging Deaf Southern Baptists to embrace a specific Deaf people group from the more than 100 unengaged, unreached Deaf people groups around the world.
Jim Dermon, the SBCD's president, echoed Elliff's sentiment. "If we are willing to learn more about Deaf people groups, to visit them, to learn their needs and desires, and to pray for them ... that will lead Deaf to accept the Lord Jesus Christ," Dermon said. "If we embrace the Deaf in other countries, it will affect what we do here in the U.S. and we will see a multiplication of Deaf churches throughout the world."
Steven Nance, a Deaf member of Parkwood Baptist Church in Concord, N.C., talked about his short-term trip to the Dominican Republic to reach Deaf children there. Now praying that others also will go there, Nance reminded conference attendees to pray for missionaries who are serving throughout the world to reach the Deaf.
Paula Little, a recreational therapist and member of Catawba Valley Baptist Church, Morganton, N.C., told how a trip to South Africa changed her life. She had several chances to go abroad but kept ignoring God's call. "I am focused on America! There's not enough mission work being done here," she recounted.
But, Little said, "God did not give up on me. I could not resist the gnawing need to go." She thought she did not have the skills needed to go on a mission trip, but the moment she decided to go, she felt at peace. When Little arrived in Johannesburg, she was met by a Deaf IMB missionary and taken to her home. Little, expecting to see a hut, was surprised to see that the missionary lived in a regular house.
While in South Africa, Little played basketball with a group of Deaf Africans, and God used her abilities as a recreational therapist to connect with the Deaf athletes. Little invited the Africans to join her in a nearby park where Bible stories were being told in sign language. These Deaf began texting their Deaf friends and soon a large group had gathered. Many understood the Gospel message for the first time.
After Little had returned to the United States, the missionary told her that 19 Deaf people had accepted Christ as a result of her trip.
John Wyble, Deaf pastor at Living Word Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., had gone on several mission trips. A turning point for Wyble was when he and his wife Denise went to the Virgin Islands and encountered hundreds of Deaf who had no access to the Gospel in their heart language. Wyble asked Terrence Jones, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in St. Thomas, to allow him to use the church building to meet with the Deaf. Jones was astonished at the number of Deaf who came each night to see Wyble teach. At the end of the week, Jones understood that the Deaf did not need to be objects of ministry but were a nation to be reached.
The Wybles are leading Living Word to embrace the Deaf peoples of St. Thomas, sharing a vision with Jones to see a Deaf church planted in St. Thomas that will initiate a Deaf church-planting movement throughout the Virgin Islands.
At the conclusion of the IMB-SBCD commissioning service, 75 people went forward and made commitments to lead their churches to embrace the ends of the earth. The IMB's "Embrace" challenge encourages churches to make a lifetime commitment to an unengaged, unreached people group.
Bob Barker, Deaf pastor of Story One Plano (Texas), said, "We came together and, in a show of unity, we prayed for our new IMB Deaf missionaries and embraced the challenge to see more go to the harvest fields."
To learn more about how a church can embrace an unengaged, unreached people group, go to call2embrace.org
John Folker is the International Mission Board's Deaf affinity group liaison.