Leading the Silent Sheep
Among the special classes of people in our country who are difficult to reach by ordinary methods are the estimated half million deaf who use sign language. We are not here concerned with those who are hard-of-hearing, persons who are able with hearing aids and by lip reading to lead a more or less normal life, but with those whose hearing loss has been such as to confine them to the sign language as their normal means of conversation. Sign language offers them the security of understanding and being understood. But naturally, since the hearing world knows nothing of that language, it tends to draw them together and isolate them. They seem to live in a different world.
To many ministers and laymen, the problem of getting inside that world seems to require too much effort, so little is done to give them God's message for the hour. They are wandering, silent sheep. Among them are many truehearted children of God, earnestly desiring to know His will, yet unable to comprehend His Word, for most of them have a very limited vocabulary. I have found that the first step in winning these people is to gain their confidence. That is why most Adventist deaf trace their conversion to some friend or relative. The next step is to interest them in one of our free Bible correspondence courses. This should be done at the first convenient opportunity, when the conversation comes to Bible themes. Even if you are not well acquainted with the deaf person you may find a way to sign him or her up for a course. For example, let us say you are a colporteur or lay worker distributing handbills and literature. The person at the door indicates by word or gesture that he or she is deaf. You do not waste time mouthing simple words so that the person may read your lips. You take out your pen and write on paper something like this: "This year, all churches are putting on a drive to get people to read the Holy Bible more. America needs to know God better. I am one of many workers who are bringing information regarding a wonderful free Bible study course by mail to all who wish it. We want the deaf to have the same chance as those who hear. Just fill out this card. There is no cost whatever, and you will get a beautiful certificate when you finish, and best of all, you will know your Bible much better."
If an enrollment is obtained, the caller should suggest that perhaps there are friends who would like to take the course too. Put these names and addresses in a special address book. The enrollment card should not be left but should be mailed by the worker himself, after copying the name and address in his book.
The Sabbath is the great test with the deaf as with other people, so as soon as the enrollee has sent in the sheet on this subject, a qualified Bible instructor should make a visit. Unless the worker has learned the manual (hand) alphabet well, and knows some signs, the talk will have to be on a pad. Notice the language and words used. Do not use words that you are not sure will be understood. Never refer to the deaf as the "deaf and dumb." To many deaf that means "deaf and stupid." It is important to understand the attitudes that prevail among the deaf and thus avoid mistakes that might offend.
I. They have an intense desire to be looked upon as capable persons, and do not appreciate expressions of pity.
2. They deeply resent any suggestion that it is unsafe for them to drive cars, or that they should not marry or have families. The question regularly asked of deaf parents: "Can your children hear?" nettles them because it implies that the questioner thinks children of deaf parents are usually deaf. (Only a small percentage of deaf children are born of deaf parents.)
3. Realizing that they might misunderstand, or be misled by someone better educated than they are, who may have designs on them, many deaf are suspicious and distrustful at first, and this attitude may prevail for some time, so patience is needed.
From Herman Leon, of Los Angeles, an earnest semideaf convert from Judaism, comes an inspiring story of Prof. Abel Sauza Aranda, of Mexico, who twelve years ago established in Monterrey what may be the first Seventh-day Adventist school for the deaf in the world. The school teaches a number of trades as well as the three R's. No less than thirty deaf people have been won by his efforts, and the astounding thing is that the professor is himself deaf. Recently he paid another visit to the Lynwood deaf group, led by Neil Davidson of the Southern California Conference. We have three licensed Seventh-day Adventist ministers to the deaf working in our denomination. The office of the Newsletter of Seventh-day Adventist Deaf is a clearinghouse for information. The address is: Route 2, Box 240, Battle Ground, Washington.
We earnestly request all ministers and workers to make a list of the deaf with whom they are acquainted or have met, and send it to us. These names will be compared with our master list, and if any new ones appear, we will send them our Newsletter. This helps to make them feel they belong and that they do not stand alone.
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