USA (MNN) — Nobody likes to be the last to know what’s going on. It’s nice to feel like you’re “in the loop” when it comes to news, updates on family and friends, events, and so on. Feeling like the last one to be told something is what Deaf people can tend to struggle with on a day-to-day basis.
The Deaf Bible Society’s President JR Bucklew explains, “The reality is that still today, the Deaf community [will often] say, ‘We’re the last to know. That’s because we have to have things communicated to us through translation, or it’s because we don’t hear the coffee bar conversations that are taking place, we’re not able to eavesdrop like other hearing people are able to to see what’s going on around us.’”
That feeling of waiting to find out what others know is a problem when it comes to the Church’s ministry to the Deaf as well. Only around two percent of Deaf people know Jesus Christ, making them a largely unreached people group with the Gospel.
Out of the Loop at Christmas
That challenge to reach the Deaf with the Good News of Christ is further compounded during Christmastime.
“Christmas is this wonderful season of celebrating the birth of Christ,” says Bucklew. “Many people here in the West, even in the secular community or people that aren’t religious…they sort of understand the significance of the Christian Church within the celebration of Christmas. But a lot of that is oral conversation or reading things on the internet. We grew up hearing the Christmas story, we grew up with the nativity scenes, we knew the story of Mary and Joseph and the three wise men, we went to the play at the church, or we saw the Charlie Brown Christmas special — it’s all of these things that help us understand the meaning of Christmas.”
In the U.S., Bucklew says around 65 percent of Deaf Americans are non-literate, which means they either can’t read or they don’t primarily obtain information with the reading level they have.
“That’s a group of people who are not listening to the radio as people are talking about Christmas, they’re not listening to the church pastor talk about the true meaning of Christmas, they’re probably not listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Granted, we have closed captioning systems, but when we look at that percentage of Deaf Americans who are functionally literate and functionally illiterate, there’s a large number of people here who are not reading those captions and really taking out the message.”
He poses this thought: “There comes the question of, ‘How do you then communicate the true meaning of Christmas?’”
To illustrate the issue for the Deaf community, Bucklew shares this story of a Deaf friend’s childhood experience with Christmas.
“Growing up, his parents didn’t sign. They would go to church, at children’s church he would play with the kids, but no one was signing. He wasn’t getting anything from the Sunday school lesson, he wasn’t getting anything in the main service. But he knew that once a year, they were supposed to take out these different colored lights, decorate their homes, they would set up this tree and put different lights on it.
“He says, ‘I remember it being great. I knew there was good food coming, but I always remembered there was this thing we were supposed to worship, this guy with red clothes and a white beard. But I didn’t know what his name was.’ He didn’t know we call him Santa Claus.”
Bucklew explains this Deaf man as a child saw his parents close their eyes in a ritual — what we know as prayer — and put out milk and cookies once a year. Then gifts would appear the next day and his parents would point to a photo of the man in the red suit, Santa Claus. This was all he understood of Christmas, and concluded that they “worshipped” Santa.
“It’s kind of a funny scenario, right?” says Bucklew. “But the sad reality is you have that for Deaf people all over the world. Whereas, this guy, he had one understanding of Christmas that was totally bogus all because he didn’t have access to the true meaning of Christmas.”
How Then to Share the Good News?
You may be asking what you can do then. If you don’t know Sign Language, or you don’t even know a Deaf person, how can you be part of sharing the Gospel with the Deaf this Christmas?
“I continue to share with people that the best way they can serve the Deaf community is really by making yourself aware, educating yourself on what’s around you. Is there a Deaf church in your community? Is there an interpretive church in your community? Is there a Deaf ministry in your community?” offers Bucklew.
“As you come in contact with Deaf neighbors or maybe your child has a friend at school whose parents are Deaf, you can then share with them — and that may be very simple communication…. But take the church’s information, give them a gift for Christmas, give them the American Sign Language Bible on a flash drive or give them an app card so they can download a Bible. Then give them the church’s information, encourage them to go, maybe you offer to go with them to this Christmas service at the Deaf church. That would be an experience for you as well! That would be huge, that would be a huge experience of culture shock and awareness and education that would help you understand how you can better communicate the Gospel to your Deaf friends and neighbors.”
You can also support Deaf Bible’s ministry as they work with Deaf communities and churches to spread the Good News of Christ! Click here to visit their website.
And finally, you can commit to praying for Deaf access to the Gospel this year.
“We have to pray that God would bring people into the lives of these Deaf neighbors and friends who can communicate the Christmas message to them. But us here in the U.S., we have huge leverage when it comes to technology of being able to share something with our neighbor. Get their text number and text them a link to downloading the Deaf Bible app so they can have the Word of God on their phone, it’s personal, they can engage with it and understand the message of Christmas.”