How To Reach The Deaf For Christ

by David Peach · Print Print · Email Email

As a missionary to the Deaf I am often asked what is different about sharing the Gospel with the Deaf compared to hearing people. I think the better question is, “How do you clearly present the Gospel?” The principles of sharing the Gospel with anyone should be based on the Bible, language, culture and education level of the person to whom you are speaking. There could be other areas of importance in sharing the Gospel, but those four immediately jump to mind when thinking about witnessing to the Deaf or anyone else.

Let me also give a general caution about witnessing that is particularly important when seeking out a certain group of people. No one wants to feel like they are a target or a prize to be won. I realize that as Christians we want everyone to be saved. However, when you focus on a people group you should do so because of genuine love for them and their eternal souls, not because you want to post your conquests in a church bulletin board or plaster it over the Internet for your own pride’s sake.

With those areas of focus in mind, let’s look at some specific things that can help someone wanting to reach the Deaf around them for Christ.

Learn Sign Language

When reaching any people group you need to know how to communicate with them. Not every deaf person uses sign language. Not all Deaf read English well. Find out how to best communicate to those you want to reach. That said, most culturally deaf people do communicate using some form of signed language.

Show your love and interest by learning the language of the Deaf in your area. Sign language classes are offered in many different settings. Some free, some very expensive. Not all classes are the same; some are certainly better than others. There are many resources available on-line to supplement your language learning in a classroom. The Deaf don’t need you to become the most skilled interpreter to accept you as a friend, but you do need to make an effort to communicate.

There was a time in our American history with the Deaf that just trying to communicate on a basic level was sufficient in reaching them with the Gospel. But that has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Don’t let that statement scare you from trying to learn the language. Sign language is not impossible to learn. If you are sufficiently motivated to learn, then you will do just fine.

Find the Deaf Community

The statement is often made that if you find one deaf person, you find the whole community. The Deaf have their own culture and community within the larger community and culture of the country in which they live. It depends on where you live as to how open that community is to outsiders. Some deaf communities will accept you because of a winning smile while others are closed and suspicious of anyone new. This usually happens because hearing have exploited the Deaf in some way in the past. Sadly, this has happened in the name of religion.

Finding new deaf friends is as easy as going out into public and being with people. I meet Deaf in grocery stores, county fairs and large public events. There are also small private venues where you can meet new friends. Many larger cities will have a monthly community gathering at the food court in a mall. I recently met an older deaf man who invited me to a senior citizen potluck luncheon that is held at a community center for the Deaf near where I live. These are all great opportunities to meet the deaf community.

Share the Gospel with the Deaf because you love them. Not because you are targeting them as a prize. The Deaf are unbelievably canny at discerning motives.

Share the Gospel with the Deaf because you love them. Not because you are targeting them as a prize. The Deaf are unbelievably canny at discerning motives.

Demonstrate Love

Share the Gospel with the Deaf because you love them. Not because you are targeting them as a prize. The Deaf are unbelievably canny at discerning motives. They have a way of reading faces that can be downright embarrassing.

Be genuine. It shows.

I can’t emphasize enough that everyone wants to be treated with love and respect. I have an older missionary friend who said to me one day, “You will never win anyone to the Lord unless you win them to yourself first.” While you can argue with the theology of that statement, the practical side of it is that you need to be a friend to those you are trying to lead to the Lord. Without that, you will probably never have an opportunity to reach them.

As a missionary in Argentina I went to a hearing man’s house to talk with him about buying a bike. Of course, we missionaries are always looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with those we meet. Instead of launching right into the fact that this man I just met was a sinner on his way to hell, I was genuinely interested in buying a bicycle from him.

We became friends and I spent many hours at his house and bicycle shop. His wife said that no other preacher has ever been able to spend much time with him because they offended him by immediately preaching to him. He and I have cried together as I urged him to accept the Lord. He was convicted but remains unconverted. He is still a hardened older gentleman who refuses to accept the Lord. I continue to pray for him.

Show love to the Deaf (and anyone you want to witness to) before you push them away from God by a caustic or conquering attitude. Jesus was kind to sinners and harsh with religious people who had already made up their minds to refuse the Messiah. We don’t know peoples’ hearts like the Lord did. We should treat everyone with the kindness that the Lord showed to those He tried to reach with God’s message.

Be Visual and Concrete

Of course there are some very practical things you can do to witness to the Deaf. The biggest is to realize the language of the Deaf is a visual language. It deals in “real” or “concrete” concepts. Try to be as visual as you can with the Deaf.

Show, don’t tell. Be as visual as possible.

Throw out “church phrases” that don’t mean anything to the Deaf (and probably don’t work as well with hearing people as we think they do). A phrase like, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is a good example of something that really doesn’t mean anything and certainly means less to those who use a visual language. Does Jesus really indwell the muscle that pumps blood in your body? No. When we talk about “heart” in this way we are talking about inviting Him into your life, not into your organs. And, secondarily, does Jesus even indwell your life? No, that is the role of the Holy Spirit.

So many trite things we say as hearing people and as church people need to be thought through for clarity in a visual language. These are the types of things you should learn in a sign language class. Try to think like someone who does not know what all the church language means and you will do a better job in witnessing to anyone you meet.

Deaf are Real People Too

Please don’t look at the Deaf as a witnessing goal to be achieved. Look at them as real people. Some are more educated than others. Even in the United States, many Deaf consider English to be a second language. Some may be able to read your Gospel tracts just fine while others cannot. It is not because they are not smart or uneducated, but because they speak a different language. You probably would do no better trying to read a Gospel tract in Spanish or Japanese if that language wasn’t your native language.

Learn their language. Develop a genuine love for the Deaf. Share God’s good news with them in the same way you would want someone to treat you by using your language and showing you respect.

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