Challenges in Deaf Ministry

The deaf from Hefei perform the praise by signs
The deaf from Hefei perform the praise by signs (photo: Lei)
By Grace ZhiOctober 26th, 2017

Deaf people account for a significant proportion in China. They want to integrate into society, but are marginalized. With the social development, deaf ministries have been launched in Harbin, Shenyang, Hefei, and Yantai, etc. Compared to other ministries, deaf ministries face special challenges that need more attention and guidance from the church. 

Deaf believers are more sensitive and self-abasing.

Rev. Lv Dezhi, president of the Heilongjiang CCC, listed three characteristics of deaf ministries at the training program for teachers of Chinese church deaf ministries: special, nontheoretical, and non-systematic. Deaf ministries have a long way to go.

For example, deaf fellowships have been founded in cities of Anhui Province, like the deaf fellowship of Ma'anshan Church established five years ago, but the pastoral ministries are still in a development phase. Unlike hearing people, deaf groups may not understand the literal meaning of the Bible.

A few years ago I contacted a brother, a rare "hearing" preacher in deaf ministry. Out of interest in sign language, he began contacting deaf Christians and later became a volunteer preacher for a deaf fellowship. During the ministry, he learned that many deaf people received more unequal treatment from their families and people around them than from society when they grew up. As a result, they are more sensitive and feel more inferior.

They generally communicate with their families and seldom get in touch with other people. Employment is a challenge to them. Usually, they only work in electronics factories six days a week with frequent overtime. They engage in labor-intensive Industries. They have many problems in society and living environments but hearing people hardly empathize with them. 

These problems formed during their growth are not easily solved in the church. The only way is to lead them toward truth and establish real faith.

Sign language, an important tool in nurturing deaf believers

Sign language is an indispensable tool for deaf ministry. It is hard for a person who can't use sign language to be involved with the deaf community. It is like a foreigner who doesn't know the language. It will be difficult to build trust and they will think that one doesn't actually want to contact and serve them. So one who wants to engage in deaf ministry needs to learn sign language.

Sign language has "dialects". For instance, a widely-used expression, "I love you," is considered aggressive in some places of Anhui Province. "It cannot be explained. All I can say is that it is cultural awareness."

Although hearing people also work in deaf ministries, many people believe that the best workers are deaf preachers with a solid faith. They tend to identify with the deaf and the way of sharing the Gospel and teaching are more acceptable. For example, Preacher Song, the leader of Yantai Huoshui Sign Language Church, is a deaf preacher. Having fifty to sixty members, his church just celebrated its 15th anniversary and moved into a new facility of 400 square meters.

Hearing people may not feel the silent world of the deaf, but they can reach the deaf through their behavior.

Other problems

Personnel. There is a lack of talent in many churches and even more so in deaf fellowships.

Management. Under general management, deaf people feel depressed and are prone to be unobligated to the church.

Due to the closed environment the group lives in, deaf fellowships are liable to be affected by heresies. Some wild heresies like the Jehovah's Witnesses have a strong focus on reaching marginalized groups. They have resources including videos and know sign language, and even win good testimonies from the deaf. Preacher Song said that over half of his congregation left the church because the Jehovah's Witnesses provided financial assistance to them.

Since deaf Christians are commonly poorer, it's hard for them to give tithes and offerings. So churches for the deaf face financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, deaf preachers need urgent theological training. In addition to these, the deaf need jobs. Preacher Song plans to set up a factory that produces handmade products to emply them. 

- Translated by Karen Luo

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