Ten TipsGive your best to serving others.Give your best to the deaf.Give your life to Jesus!Watch this video on “Pigs or Pearls.”
The tip of the arrow beautifully hit the bright red circle! Yes! You did it! You hit a bull’s eye! When you interact with the Deaf, you also want to hit the bull’s eye and truly communicate. Here are ten tips to help you successfully connect with Deaf people.
Notice the word “with” in my sentences above. It is a great choice because the same sign “with” when moved in a circular motion means “together.” Any people group must be approached in a manner of humility and camaraderie. If you start a Deaf ministry program or any Deaf group and you use that little word “to” (i.e.”Ministry to the Deaf”), it can give the connotation that you are extending help. Any ministry should extend help, but it is so much better to extend help and to receive help – to work together with the Deaf. The word “with” can proclaim, “We are in this together.”
You want to value each person: the Deaf, the hard-of-hearing, the hearing, and get input from them all to make your program a success. When it comes to a Deaf ministry, the Deaf can give valuable input! They can because they know the challenges and blessings of being Deaf. However, just as all people differ, you will find that Deaf people may have a lot of common denominators, but each person is a unique child of God, too, and so each person will have different ideas and needs as well. So, humbly work with the Deaf, they will help you more effectively serve. Encourage the Deaf to be servants of Christ and leaders in Deaf ministry.
Learn sign language. If you want to communicate with Deaf people, learn their language! I encourage folks to first learn American Sign Language and then later learn signed English. It is important to work towards fluency and be able to communicate with Deaf people who use different sign systems. Lose your pride and strive to communicate. Never nervously let your hands flap, aimlessly pretending to sign. It is not funny; it is actually insulting!
If you have to mime, draw pictures, or write notes, take the plunge to communicate! If a Deaf person wants to read your lips, then move your mouth. If they want ASL with no mouthing, then do that! Immerse yourself in sign language communication with Deaf people.
Edwin Westlake, a brilliant older Deaf man, said to me, “People learning to sign need to remember to not only learn to sign, but to also work on their receptive skills and learn what the Deaf have to say, too!” It can be a terrible bore and disappointment to the Deaf if you don’t take time to listen with your eyes to what they have to say! So, work on fluency with expressive and receptive communication skills! But don’t expect it to be easy! You won’t be a perfect signer at first! “Baby talk” in sign language, but keep growing! Be patient with yourself! But also keep motivated and never give up! You can hit the bull’s eye of communication!
Reciprocate! People love to share! You should seek to be a blessing to Deaf people, but you should allow them to be a blessing to you as well! Learn to serve each other with love. Also, if a Deaf person pours their heart out to you, they want you to share from your heart, as well.
Effective Deaf mission work will be accomplished when we learn to serve others with love. It is important for us to value each other and bear one another’s burdens. To share one’s struggles in this life (share what you feel comfortable sharing however) is a candid way of valuing each other. So, with wisdom, share deeply from your hearts. Reciprocate. Help each other!
Treat Deaf people as equals. We are all equals. Don’t pity or feel sorry for Deaf people, they are valuable people. But, do have compassion for them in their individual challenges, as you would for any person! No one wants to be devalued with pity. No one wants to feel “looked down upon” because we are all beautiful in God’s eyes! Value the deaf! Learn from them! Help them grow! Let Deaf people help you grow in Christ, too!
When teaching the Deaf, use lots of visuals! Deaf people think visually; approach them using their own learning style to teach excellently! Use props and all kinds of visuals.
Also, don’t do obnoxious visual movements that obstruct learning! Don’t do nervous leg shaking or finger tapping in the view of interpreting or Bible teaching! (These visuals and those vibrations can detract from learning.) Also, avoid walking in front of the interpreter, Bible teacher, or preacher. When people are drawing or doing overactive movements in the line of the presentation, it can be very distracting. The profoundly Deaf can only learn with their eyes, so distractions must be minimized! Remember, keep your visuals forefront in your teaching so as to keep the attention of the audience and to help them “see” the truth!
Don’t expect Deaf people to have the same writing and reading skills that you do! Most Deaf people have an amazing command of American Sign Language – which is a true language. You can learn lots from Deaf people about how to develop fluency with their beautiful cherished language! There are many Deaf people who are fluent in reading and writing English or whatever is the spoken or written language of the land. However, the majority of Deaf people struggle with reading and writing. Once again, that does not mean that Deaf people lack intelligence!
Hearing people take for granted that we learn words from hearing and overhearing them. Being able to hear our parents and teachers scold us about verb tenses helped us learn to write and read. If one doesn’t hear, they might be unaware of many words, verb tenses, etc.
Deaf people often will not find our puns to be humorous. Puns are funny due to their sound, so since the Deaf don’t hear the “funny pun-ny” it might be misunderstood and not at all humorous. Even it is explained, often the humor of puns is lost in the translation. Also, hearing people have been raised learning lots of idiomatic expressions. Deaf people have not had the same access to numerous idioms. However, some Deaf people do know LOTS of idioms, because they find that idioms are interesting, so they study to become familiar with idioms! If they are unfamiliar with an idiom, they could be perplexed. For example, if the Deaf person didn’t know the idiom, “it’s raining cats and dogs,” they might really scratch their head in bewilderment. Be purposeful and sensitive to truly communicate with everyone you meet. So, beware of puns, and make sure your idioms are understood when communicating with Deaf people.
Offer all forms of communication. Although some Deaf people can struggle with reading and writing, still work towards all forms of communication access. Add closed captioning and open captioning to everything that you can! But, also always make provision for everyone to have access to teaching/preaching with sign language. Offer excellent interpretation for services. Make sure to get a Christian interpreter to interpret services. The Spirit of Christ will illumine and shine forth from them as they share God’s Word.
Statistical research show that Deaf worship services and Sunday School classes where everything is done first in sign language (not interpreted) is often more effective in reaching the Deaf for Christ. So, prayerfully consider helping start a Deaf Sunday School program and worship service which will often offer more clarity in explanation, more service leadership opportunities, and deeper fellowship. However, some Deaf people really do prefer interpreted services. Be sensitive and try to help meet the needs of the Deaf in as many ways as possible.
Be respectful and attentive when talking with Deaf people. If you are communicating with a Deaf person, and you continually break eye contact and look away, you send a message of rejection. Always looking away states, “You and what you have to say is not as important to me as all the sounds around me.” You need to focus on the person you are talking to!
Did you ever see the movie “Up?” Well, the dog in the story would always get distracted from his current activity and look at the squirrels! He would turn his head, widen his eyes, and cry out, “Squirrel!” When communicating with the Deaf, don’t be crying “Squirrel” all the time!
Emergencies do arise! Important things can interrupt any good conversation between any two human beings, whether they are Deaf or hearing, but if you must take a break in a conversation, then respectfully say, “Please hold just a second,” before breaking eye contact if at all possible. Sometimes babies will stick their fingers in electrical outlets and perhaps you might have some circumstances where you just have to disengage, but typically you can show respect and value to the Deaf person by politely saying, “Please hold!” So, make your goal to be attentive in conversations, giving facial feedback and comments showing that you are truly engaged in the conversation!
Teach Jesus first. When sharing God’s Word with Deaf children or Deaf people who don’t have a lot of Biblical knowledge, share the stories of Jesus first. Of the trinity, Jesus is the most visual. Jesus is the Son of God and Son of Man, who came to show us the way.
Since on earth, no eye has fully seen God, the concept of God is challenging at first for “visual” people and really all people. The Holy Spirit being spirit is harder to explain at first too, so begin first in teaching Jesus. Sharing Christ’s love and the message of the Gospel should be our greatest goal of imparting to others. Since the Deaf have not had opportunity to receive the word of Christ we should be passionate about Deaf people having opportunity to “hear” (actually “see”) the Good News. (Romans 10:14-15)
Don’t be a “fly by night” friend of the Deaf, ministry team member or missionary! Be committed! Seek God about how much time you can dedicate, but whatever God leads you to do, be devoted to ministry with the Deaf. So many people are so fascinated with the beauty of sign language that they “jump on the bandwagon” (get excited to learn) to learn sign language, but with time their enthusiasm fizzles out. People learning any language must know that the point of learning the language is to love and know the people.
In missionary commitment, there can be different stages: the honeymoon, then the green banana stage, and then finally the committed missionary stage. When working with any other cultural group, people can first experience “the honeymoon” stage where everything is exciting and wonderful! What a thrill to learn to use sign language, to be understood! How moving it is to sign songs passionately and expressively from your heart! But then later, the “green banana” stage can hit! Signing can be tiring, challenges can be overwhelming! When trials come, we can tend to see everything as a “yucky green banana” and just want to quit. It is in the “green banana” stage that we must remember our commitment to love and work alongside and with the Deaf to see the Deaf come to Christ.
When we are able to face the “dark clouds” (discouragement) and the sunshine (exciting good times) and come what may, still make the choice to be committed to Deaf ministry, it is then you become a dedicated Deaf ministry servant. But, of course, we must keep on rededicating ourselves to God’ service as more challenges come our way. (Galatians 6:9)
So, put the arrow in your hand, make it ready to pull back the bow! Use these 10 helpful tips to assist you in successfully working with the Deaf! As you trust God and remember these tips, you will find yourself hitting the “bull’s- eye” and having victory in serving God with the Deaf. Pray for our family. Seven years ago, we visited Hawaii and Steve and I were married there. Next week, we are returning to visit again the Deaf churches to do outreach!
Celebrating seven years of marriage ministry, Expressions of Emmanuel missionaries Steven and Vonda Hamilton, with their children, Andres (deaf), Selah (hearing), and Cloudi (deaf).