Lebanon (CAM) — Deaf children in Middle Eastern cultures tend to be neglected or even abandoned because of their impairment. Like other physically- or mentally-challenged children in the region, they are typically left behind in family life, education, and economic opportunities.
Christian ministers in the region say the Islamic worldview leads parents to view such children as bringing shame to the family, and deaf sons and daughters may simply be kept hidden from the public. When a Christian organization based in Lebanon began reaching out to the deaf five years ago, it discovered what amounted to an unreached people group longing for belonging.
“We’ve seen deaf people coming to Christ,” the director of the Beirut-based ministry said. “We wanted to start that ministry because deaf people in the Middle East in general, not only in Lebanon, can’t be part of the society, as they are really not well regarded by people.”
Before his ministry began reaching out to the deaf, an association of mission agencies and churches seeking to establish churches among the world’s people groups had identified the deaf in Lebanon as an “unreached, unengaged” people group. The association, Finishing The Task (FTT), uses the term “unengaged” for people groups to which no one is even trying to proclaim Christ.
FTT estimates there are 21,000 deaf people in Lebanon, but because of the stigma attached to deafness in the country, steep under-reporting is suspected. The actual figure could be in the hundreds of thousands.
Introducing sign-language into the ministry’s existing outreaches to the primarily-Muslim people in Lebanon has resulted in nearly 90 deaf people putting their faith in Christ, the ministry director said. Two groups of 40-45 people each meet for prayer.
“Some of them have the courage to go to church,” he said. “Some of them meet in different places because they are from Muslim families.”
Having seen both the need and the potential harvest, the ministry is planning to extend to deaf children its already highly successful children’s outreach. With assistance from Christian Aid Mission, the ministry hopes to serve 200-300 deaf children.
Initially, the ministry plans to offer deaf children activities like those of a Vacation Bible School. As they grow in their knowledge of Christ, they would be invited to attend a weekly “Kids’ Club” for discipleship. The outreach would also offer two theater performances for the deaf children and their families at a venue the ministry has secured. As the deaf children all come from impoverished families where anxiety, loneliness, depression, and hopelessness are daily companions, the first production emphasizes how evil is the result of sin, not the work of God, who seeks a genuine and healthy relationship with people. The second play raises awareness about hygiene–of critical importance to impoverished children.
At the performances, the ministry plans to invite the kids to the club meetings, which would take place twice a week at two or more sites. Consisting of games, Bible lessons, worship songs, and general rowdiness, such gatherings have been so successful among the hearing that some children have a hard time leaving. The Muslim parents report that their children are more loving and respectful, and they say they’re glad that their children are learning about God, the director said. About 90% of the children who come to the gatherings for the hearing put their trust in Christ, he said.
“Through such clubs for the deaf, we plan to follow up and disciple the children,” he said. “They will be able to learn how to develop a relationship with God and grow in their faith.”
The activities for the deaf do take some tailoring, the director said.
“It is different when you work with the deaf because you must work alongside someone who can translate your words into sign language, and the games are a bit different because they rely completely on sight alone,” he said.
The deaf would also join training sessions the ministry organizes for the hearing, through the use of interpreters, he added.
“This has an added benefit of socializing the children with hearing children, and thus breaking down stereotypes and stigma,” he said.
Last year, the ministry was involved with a child protection program that exposed the need for education to protect children from various forms of abuse. The ministry plans to hold five conferences to educate deaf children, their parents, and schoolteachers about sexual abuse, kidnapping, child protection resources, and children’s rights.
Besides plans to provide the deaf a gospel film on DVD on the life of Jesus, the ministry also hopes to duplicate for the deaf its highly-successful leadership training conferences. Those who have come to Christ would be trained and equipped to reach deaf young people in Lebanon with the message of Christ’s salvation.
The ministry, which has 14 staff members and 70 volunteers, would train 80 people at each session to volunteer in the weekly kids’ clubs for the deaf. The parents of deaf children who put their faith in Christ would then be trained to lead churches, just as they are in the ministry’s program for the hearing.
“We’ve been shocked by the number of people coming to Christ these days,” the director said. “We’ve been seeing miracles happening these days among the Muslim people. So many are turning to Christ.”