December 03, 2014 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Ansel Oliver/ANN
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s ministry to the Deaf is gaining traction worldwide with increased coordination to better reach and minister to members of the often-neglected subculture.
This year marks the first time that each of the denomination’s 13 world divisions has a designated coordinator for Deaf ministries in their area, a step that was announced at Annual Council in October.
Making the announcement in front of the world church’s Executive Committee was Larry Evans, an associate Stewardship Ministries director, who has long promoted mission to the Deaf and is helping the denomination coordinate the outreach effort.
“We’re seeing exciting things happening, and we hope to keep offering resources for both the Deaf and the hearing to understand the challenges of ministry for this unique group,” Evans said.
“Only about 2 percent of Deaf people are Christian,” he added. “We need to be talking more about reaching this unreached people group.”
The development of resources to the Deaf includes a new website, with sections for both Deaf and people who hear.
Deaf people are often isolated from the typical sources of spiritual teaching and encouragement. When they are members of a hearing church they are often not included in most church activities, including church leadership.
Some practices at Deaf congregations are noticeably different—heads are not bowed during prayer, hymns aren’t sung but signed, and applause is replaced by a waving of hands.
Evans and others, including North American Division Vice President Debra Brill, have continually pushed the denomination to understand how to better minister to the Deaf.
Summertime campmeetings for the Deaf have been held in the United States for more than three decades. In Kenya earlier this year, a school for the Deaf was opened that serves 18 students. In April, 75 people from several countries throughout Europe held a Deaf gathering in Germany. And in Brazil, more than 1,200 people attended a Deaf campmeeting last month.
In areas lacking a coordinated approach to Deaf ministry, Church members can think of ways to include the Deaf in church services and leadership, said Esther Doss of the Three Angels Deaf Ministries, based in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“Make friends with Deaf people and interact with them,” Doss said. “We don’t have to worry about making a mistake—they’re used to it.”
She added that churches can train or hire a sign-language interpreter to help the Deaf feel more welcomed. “Use your imagination a little bit, think how to make the environment more accessible,” Doss said.
Many proponents of the ministry say more resources are needed, including a Deaf Ministry training center to train Deaf pastors and Bible workers.
In 1996 Jeff Jordan became the first Deaf Adventist to earn a Master of Divinity degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He now pastors the Southern Deaf Fellowship, an online church based in the U.S. state of Tennessee that ministers to the Deaf.
Jordan said Church employees working in fulltime Deaf ministry are few. “We need more workers to help finish the great commission given to us by Jesus,” he said.
In the meantime, at least one more worker is becoming ready for service. Brazil’s first deaf Adventist pastor, Douglas Silva, will graduate from seminary this month.
For more information about Adventist Deaf Ministries, visit adventistdeaf.org.