God's commission to us is clear; we are to give the everlasting gospel to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. Naturally we think of this text as referring to the many different races, languages, and people scattered throughout the world. But what about the thousands of handicapped people who live in our own cities? In this country alone there are more than half a million deaf people who can never hear a preaching service or a radio program! There are also 14 to 15 million other men and women in the United States who have some degree of hearing impairment in one or both ears. And yet all of these dear folks need the message we love.
At the Oregon camp meeting last summer we were deeply impressed as we saw a large group in one section of the gallery, all of whom were receiving the message through the sign language of an interpreter. As we watched we noted that these alert people were entering into every feature of the service. The expressions on their countenances told they were understanding and enjoying it all. How glad we were that one specially trained was able to bring it to them.
But this was only a handful as compared with the thousands who never had such opportunity. Actually we as a people are far behind in meeting this need. Other denominations are setting a noble example. Our Lutheran friends, for example, have five churches for the deaf in the San Francisco area alone! And they are giving special courses to students who are willing to dedicate their lives to this important work. Other denominations also are training ministers for this work.
Although the sign language is not too difficult to learn, it requires a particular dedication of heart and life, however, on the part of the one called to such a ministry. These handicapped people live, to some extent, in a world of their own. We who have all our senses scarcely realize what such folk suffer through their handicaps. But the fact that they enjoy fellowship makes is highly commendable that they meet in groups for worship. There are a number of churches of other denominations where the sign language is used exclusively.
I well remember remarking to a group of blind people I had baptized a short time before that I felt particularly sorry for them, because, being blind, they missed so much in life. At once one of them spoke up and said, "Don't feel sorry for us. True, we miss some things, but think of how much worse off we would be if we were deaf. The deaf people are the ones who need your sympathy. You see, we can enter into so much because we can hear, and being able to hear, we can speak. But folks who have no hearing are robbed also of the joy of speech. When we go to meetings, we are able to enter into the whole program intelligently. You know yourself how much we enjoy music. But if we were deaf, life would be different." And it certainly would have been different for these folks because all were excellent musicians. But music can mean nothing to those who are robbed of the wonder of sound.
This need surely should challenge us. If consecrated and efficient instructors for this work could be found, then with the Lord's blessing some wonderful results would soon be seen. The deaf, the dumb, the crippled, held a large place in the ministry of our Lord. And by His messenger we have been told that the blind, the deaf, and the lame "have been placed in close Christian fellowship to His church" in order "to prove His people and develop their true character." Furthermore, "Angels of God are watching to see how we treat these persons who need our sympathy, love, and disinterested benevolence. This is God's test of our character."—Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 511.
If other Christian groups are alert to the need, should not we as Adventists feel the urge to bring God's last message to these precious people? Other denominations offer sign-language classes in some of their colleges and foster sign-language clubs. Should not we have dedicated workers giving full time to this important work? We rejoice in the excellent work being accomplished for the blind, but can nothing be done for those who spend their lives in silence?
R. A. A.