The Missiological Perspective
of Deaf Ministry

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Much of the following is addressed to hearing people who think they are called and want to be involved in "Deaf Ministry."  Many are called, few are chosen. Are you one of the "called out ones?"  While one of the best situations is for the Deaf to minister to the Deaf, we know God calls hearing people, too. 

Cross-cultural missions has always been a part of the church.  Jesus himself was a cross-cultural missionary to the earth.  Then after coming to earth as a Jew, He reached out to the gentiles and Samaritans, too.  All of which he did with sensitivity.  The Apostle Paul was a cross-cultural missionary and Peter, too.  many examples can be listed.  But, this is enough.  However, in cross-cultural missions special cares need to be taken to effectively reach the target culture.  So it is with reaching the Deaf Nation.

The Missiological Perspective

The missiological philosophy of Deaf ministry strongly holds to establishing ministries that are Deaf led, or by hearing people who are committed to the Deaf, support the Deaf culture and live "as Deaf as possible." This is called immersion or enculturation. The model for ministry is based upon relationship, coming under, not over the Deaf and for the hearing, having an "attitudinal deafness."  It involves changing from a "compound mentality" to living with the people.

A "compound mentality" means making trips into the villages of the "natives," doing ministry to the people, then back to the security of their compound where life goes on as it did back in their home culture.  This has been a common style of missionary work which can often be seen as a paternalistic mind-set.

Often the models used for hearing ministries are not the most effective for reaching the Deaf. Methods of conventional "hearing culture" ministries toward the Deaf by hearing are not the most conducive to reaching the Deaf.  

New models of ministry must be developed to reach the Deaf.

Missiological Perspective of Deaf Ministry

The missiological  perspective holds to the cultural view of deafness as opposed to the pathological view. This view sees the Deaf as a person, a unique individual with a cultural attachment not only an auditory loss. Therefore, we hold that the best way to reach the Deaf is through the missiological view of ministry rather than what I call a "church ministry" perspective.  This does not mean we are not to plant churches for the Deaf.  On the contrary, we need to have a church planting mind-set. 

In a church ministry the common view, hearing or Deaf, is "bring them in" rather than "go out and find them." It is most common to try to provide interpreted services as opposed to establishing Deaf churches with a Deaf pastor. This not meant to invalidate ministry in the church which has interpreted services, but it is not the end goal. The end goal must be to equip the Deaf to go out into all the world and reach their people group and hearing churches must be willing to release them to do this. 

Interpreted services tend to be more a mainstream philosophy, leaving the small group of Deaf encompassed by a very large group of hearing who do not learn the Deaf language or culture and all is done according to hearing customs, leaving the Deaf alone, basically uninvolved, feeling very awkward with little true spiritual growth taking place.

There is little chance for participation. In the weekly Bible Studies the Deaf are left behind in the flow of conversation due to lagging behind because of the interpreting. The Deaf often hesitate to ask questions because they are behind in the conversation or feel they will look stupid if they ask a question. Often the Deaf person does not have the equal understanding of the Bible because of lack of access. They may need a more basic explanation to catch them up to the present conversation and then go on with the current situation. 

In the missiological situation these do not tend to occur in the same manner. The ground is more equal and the opportunity to participate is more available. Equality among their peers, opportunity for freedom of expression without, or with less, intimidation or fear is available. Participation is increased and learning is enhanced.

Difficulty with the Missiological Perspective

One difficulty with this (the missions) perspective is that very few hearing are willing to immerse themselves that deeply into the culture (see the article on our web page that deals with what we call enculturation) Secondly, few Deaf are ready to take on the task of running a church, or establishing one.

A third reason it may be less acceptable for the hearing is that this concept tends to mean one is to work themselves out of a job. One church interpreter relay a conversation to me which  he had with another interpreter who said, "If I could not interpret, I wouldn't know what to do."  Being in love with the job does not necessarily translate into being in love with the people. The goal is indigenous churches or groups. Let the Deaf do it. It is similar to John the Baptist and Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease." But the truth is, there is plenty of work to do, but the role changes. (Suggested reading: "The Mask of Benevolence" by Harlan Lane)

Therefore, a longer term discipleship of the Deaf may be needed. Short term mission outreaches, which some organizations use, will not work to reach the Deaf since the key to reaching them and their culture is relationship and trust.  These require a great deal of time to develop for the hearing.  The Deaf are already fully involved in the culture and "Deaf calls to Deaf."  Hearing people need a mentor and "gate keeper" who helps open the door to the Deaf community.

For the hearing person to be involved in reaching the Deaf, we advocate taking on the culture, embodying it, and becoming "as Deaf as possible."  Jesus being the supreme example of this and other cross-cultural missions. Philippians 2:6-8 "...although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself..."  That must be the role of a hearing person who wishes to be involved in Deaf ministry.  Humility and "becoming like them."

For hearing people, it is not just dipping our toes into the Deaf World, not wading, nor up to the waist, but a baptism into the culture. It involves waiting to be accepted, not bringing hearing values into it, but giving up our rights to our culture. It is the same as it should be for anyone going to another country and culture as a missionary. First the language must be learned, then the culture and values held by that culture. One must honor and respect these.

A person can not jump into the culture and say as Mighty Mouse, "Here I am to save the day!" They need to earn the respect of the people, develop love and trust. This may apply more so when working with the Deaf than any other culture, due to the lack of trust for the hearing. When the Deaf are involved as missionaries or ministers some of these issues become non-issues. But for hearing people working alongside the Deaf they are important issues, which need to be faced. There needs to be a willingness to change. Deaf ministry doesn't only change a person's life, it defines it.

Some may be concerned that I say to accept the values of their culture, but Don Richardson, in his video series, "The Melchizedek Factor," says, "90% of a culture is redeemable." Most of the Deaf culture should pose no problem to immersion.  The Deaf Culture tends to be more "straight forward (blunt)."  We dare not become easily offended, not if we are going to reach those who do not know Jesus.   Hearing need to be willing to let the "water roll of their backs" so to speak. This is really called humility, a willingness to "come under" and be taught by the Deaf.  It is the same with anyone going to another country and needing to adjust to that culture.  Yes it takes time but for the humble of heart it will be possible and the rewards will be great.  "Love endures all things." I Corinthians 13:7  And it is a known fact that, "love transforms its object." - Gordon Olson.

There is one big difference, however.  When a person goes to a foreign nation they are always and fully surrounded by that culture.  It is not so with the Deaf Nation unless great effort is made to live among them "as Deaf as possible."  This does not mean to "pretend to be Deaf." This is why the "as possible" is there. A person cannot escape the "hearing world."  it is around them always. 

For hearing people who wish to be a missionary  with the Deaf, they will need to be willing to leave their culture behind.  Do not give into the temptation to "hang around" the hearing group when there is a mixture of hearing and Deaf or to continually seek out time with the hearing people.  It is a way of "taking up your cross."  It will take great effort for the hearing person to follow this approach, but it will be worth it.  The Deaf will notice it.  And at times the abilities of "hearing-ness" will be able to serve those Deaf we are working with.

The Deaf Nation are by nature a relational people.  Relationships are valued and therefore important. Little insensitivities can become big. Relationships, honoring the Deaf as valuable and important beings, which they are, will provide keys to success.  This is the Jesus Factor.

Because of the visual nature of the Deaf world, and the "eye satisfied" mentality of most Deaf, personal evangelism is the key means to reaching the Deaf.

Some Strategies for Reaching the Deaf Nation

 


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