International (MNN) — When math associate professor Dr. Rob Myers was introduced to several deaf colleagues at Bethel College, the Mishawaka, Ind. resident didn’t expect anything more than making a couple of new friends.
“But I noticed these two deaf professors tended to only communicate regularly with a couple of the other faculty. They were kind of isolated from the other faculty,” Myers recalls. “I asked, ‘How would I get to know you all and develop a relationship with you?’ They said, ‘Well, the best way is to learn our language, because right now, you are having to use an interpreter to talk to us.'”
Both Myers and his wife, Michelle, began to not only learn the language, but to feel a calling to help the Deaf have access to the Bible and help them integrate into the Church.
“In a hearing church, a Deaf person struggles with being able to serve as an elder, deacon, usher, Sunday school teacher, or a nursery worker,” says Myers. “A Deaf person in a hearing church is most often relegated to doing some sort of maintenance work, unless they are around Deaf people and there is not that language barrier.”
DOOR International is working to ensure that Deaf Christians will know the Bible and be active members of a church.
Like Jesus with the parables, Deaf people communicate through stories, Myers explains. Because sign language cannot be written down, a Deaf community is much like a social order based on oral tradition. Stories are used to impart ideas and to remember information that isn’t written down.
DOOR’s ministry follows the example set in Mark 6 where Jesus called His disciples together and sent them out in pairs to be witnesses for Him. Deaf people in a community are recruited in order to begin translating the Gospel into their native sign language. They create the videos and other material that they will use to share God’s Word.
DOOR staff teaches the teams about discipleship, church planting, and evangelism.
“They begin to develop relationships, share the Gospel, and set up classes where they share these stories,” Myers says. The stories are designed to introduce Christ through sign language, and then they begin one-on-one discipleship with those individuals. “They develop leaders within the group and form a believers’ fellowship.”
Right now, DOOR has 21 teams working in 16 different languages. Many sign languages are based on a couple of prominent ones, American and Russian sign language being the most used. But like spoken languages, there are regional dialects. Having a strong basis in the prominent language makes translators more adept at translating into the less-known languages. More people are needed, Myers says. He hopes to have 40 teams–all Deaf evangelists and teachers from the local populations–to work with the Deaf people in their communities.