Seventh-day Adventist leaders are stepping up efforts to share Jesus with deaf people, including with a school in Kenya, a camp meeting in Brazil, and a new website, and are asking church members to join in.
This year is the first time that each of the Adventist Church’s 13 world divisions has appointed a coordinator to work with deaf people, an often-neglected subculture where Christians account for only about 2 percent of the group.
“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,” said Larry Evans, who coordinates deaf outreach for the world church and is an associate director with the Stewardship Ministries department at the General Conference.
The development of resources for the deaf includes a new website, adventistdeaf.org, with sections for both those who are deaf and can hear.
People who are hearing impaired are often isolated from the typical sources of spiritual teaching and encouragement, people who work with them said. 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 long urged the world church to better understand how to minister to the deaf.
Summertime camp meetings for the deaf have been held in the U.S. for more than three decades. But outreach has lagged in other countries. This year, a school for the deaf with 18 students opened in Kenya. In April, 75 people from several countries throughout Europe held a gathering that focused on the deaf in Germany. And in Brazil, more than 1,200 people attended a deaf camp meeting last month.
In areas lacking a coordinated approach, 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 said that churches could 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.
She and others said more resources are needed, including a center to train deaf pastors and Bible workers.
“We need more workers to help finish the great commission given to us by Jesus,” said Jeff Jordan, who in 1996 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 Tennessee.
In the meantime, at least one more pastor is preparing for service. Brazil’s first deaf Adventist pastor, Douglas Silva, will graduate from the seminary this month.