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.

Related post:  How Missionaries Learn Languages

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits December 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Hi David,

I appreciate your counsel to make friends of the world and your theme on removing “self” in evangelism. I have a captive audience in the patients I see as a doctor and I use this as a place to plant seeds. I try, during different times in the exam, to add that everything we do is just postponing the inevitable, which is that, “no one escapes this life alive”.

That often brings the conversation around to my point that it is sad for those who have no hope beyond the grave. Some are amenable to talk further… others fold their arms in defiance. I then simply state that I am a Christian and my hope is in Jesus.

Some wish to continue, some remain silent. I then state that we have all broken God’s Laws and that our only hope for rescue from God’s judgment is to turn from our sins and trust Christ. “I need God’s forgiveness more than anyone” is how I conclude.

If silence remains I simply finish my exam and escort the patient out. This all takes just a few minutes. I don’t press for anything. I simply plant the seed. Some no longer visit me, which is OK. Some say, “I have never thought of it that way”, which is more OK. Seeds…

A few problems, if you will allow, with the time taken in building friendships, is that people diie. The other problem I have found, is that people come to know you well, and you never get around to switching your topic of conversation around to spiritual matters, as your basis for friendship has always been around secular matters. I appreciate the bicycle story and your switching topics…that is not the norm.

Am i saying don’t build friendships…No! I am saying that perhaps there is a middle ground. Setting aside the folks who make spiritual notches in their gun belts, I believe there has to be an immediacy and plaintive appeal(tears as General William Booth advised) in warning the lost of their condition.

Western Christianity is way too much, IMO, into “pot luck evangelism”. Trust me, I was a youth minister for years and we used every tactic known to modern man to get the lost into the corral. Soft evangelism was our method. “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. “God wants to be your friend”. “Won’t you let God be your friend so you can live in heaven forever?” “Lets make a deal…your sins for God’s forgiveness”.

All of those “ploys” are indirectly true…and that, IMO, is/was fatal. Sure, some were saved, praise God. But many were like your bicycle friend. They were sorry, all right, for the things they did wrong, but it ended there. “Altar Christians”, I called them. Every Sunday(or twice a year) they came to the altar, and cried like babies, but nothing changed. They were just as much the sons of hell the next week as before the altar trip.

So what am I saying. Please reference for me one place in Scripture where God calls unbelievers His friends? John 15:13 you would cite, but it is followed by John 15:14, only those who do what God commands are His friends. Show me one place where God says He has a wonderful plan for the unbeliever’s life?(Jeremiah does not count, as that promise was to the nation of Israel, who went immediately into their 70 year captivity). All of those people(contemporary to the prophecy of Jeremiah) died in captivity…the nation only survived.

God’s “wonderful” plan for the unbeliever is hell! That reality follows me daily. It should haunt all Christians. Does that give us pride in knowing we escaped perdition…God forbid! Does it give me a reason to pray for boldness in warning (not sharing, in some soft speak friendship evangelism) that our(theirs and mine) destiny lies in One hope, One Person, One God…Jesus Christ..the only One capable of redeeming us from eternity in hell? Yes!!

God shake our Western Christian world to the very core of our being. Unfortunately/fortunately persecution will be the antidote to the poison coursing through our sleeping souls. It is coming. Perhaps not in my lifetime but the winds of change are upon our country. Christians are being marginalized more every day. It is currently a hate crime to speak the truth. Our Christian parents would shudder in disbelief.

Time is of the essence. I think most of the Christian’s efforts must be directed into knowing the few scriptures necessary to tell folks why they believe what they believe.
In my estimation, approximately 10-15% of Christians can do this. That is tragic.
All of our efforts must be in speaking the truth in love:

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:14,15).

Forgive me for this aggressive post. I know where you are coming from in making friends of the world. Some of my dearest friends are atheists. I never leave a meal with them without themselves or myself stating that they know where I am coming from…that they must trust Christ. In the end, it is the Holy Spirit who convicts, whom He will. We must trust Him.

I so desperately want them saved.

DocReits

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David December 27, 2013 at 7:15 am

hello David, I just want to share something.
I have a deaf step sister, About 35 years ago I was with my family [and step mother, sister and brother] and I noted that there was no-one spending time with Wendy [my deaf step sister]. She would be sitting with us not being rude by reading, or going to her room, but couldn`t “speak“ or join our conversation. I am a Christian, and was one then too. So I asked Wendy to teach me sign language, which she enjoyed, and after a few days we were having our own conversation, chatting, and so forth. We really had a great time.
Now she has become a Christian, loving the Lord, not because I tried to push, or preach to her. Just being her friend and that was enough.
She once remarked that I was the only one who bothered to take time to learn from her.
Bless your ministry brother.
Yours in Christ, David from central Europe

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