Deaf people represent one of the largest groups worldwide that is unreached and unengaged with the Gospel. Reliable statistics regarding the Deaf community are difficult to come by, but it is estimated that Deaf people constitute roughly one-percent of the global population.
According to Deaf Missions and the International Mission Board’s Deaf Affinity Group, less than two-percent of the world’s 70 million Deaf people follow Christ. Furthermore, 80% of Deaf people have no access to education and therefore struggle to read traditional evangelistic resources like tracts and printed Bibles.Of the approximately 1,800 language groups that are unengaged with the gospel, 15-20% of them are sign language groups among Deaf communities.
How do you tell if an organization is “doing” Deaf ministry correctly? What should be present to ensure that a ministry will have a long-term, deep impact on Deaf communities? DOOR International’s Deaf leaders have identified four criterion that a ministry must meet in order to reach Deaf communities for Christ.
Deaf people are best reached by other Deaf people, whether on a local or international level. This means that any ministry serious about reaching the Deaf in a particular community should work primarily through Deaf people active in that community.
If no Deaf believers can be found to work in the community, the primary responsibility of the ministry is to grow Deaf believers who can do so. The goal is for Deaf believers to have initiative and ownership in the work.
It is one thing to say it would be nice to have Deaf leaders; it is another thing to have a clear plan for developing and multiplying Deaf leaders in an organization. Deaf ministries should be actively developing Deaf leaders at all levels, and the Deaf should be providing this training.
In order to build leaders and train Deaf workers to be the providers of ministry, accessible resources must be developed. However, all sign languages have an extreme lack of resources available in those sign languages. This means that Deaf ministries must make a serious commitment to creating quality resources that support their Deaf workers, or they must work in close coordination with other ministries that create such resources.
In particular, there is a great need for the development of Bible translation resources that will give unreached Deaf communities quality initial access to Scripture. No sign language currently has a full Bible translation, and most do not have one verse of Scripture translated. The development of sign language Bible translations multiplies Deaf ministry by placing tools in the hands of Deaf missionaries.
The role of any ministry should be to work itself out of a job. A ministry should empower local believers in a way that those local believers can subsequently reproduce in the lives of others. In this way, it will create a movement that expands the work far beyond the direct reaches of the ministry itself.
The number of Deaf people who are equipped to train and support ministry among the Deaf is limited. If your organization has expertise in training others in spreading the gospel (for instance, in Bible translation, in church planting, etc.) and you are willing to have others modify that training to fit the needs of the Deaf, you can partner with Deaf ministries to help provide access to that training for Deaf leaders.
Alternatively, if your ministry produces biblical material resources. Those resources might be of value to Deaf ministries if translated into sign language and adjusted to match Deaf culture. Providing access to those resources for a reduced cost or free of charge, and allowing Deaf ministries to modify the material to fit a Deaf audience, would accelerate the process of material resource development. Deaf ministries do not need to reinvent the wheel.
[Editor’s Note: The term “Deaf” (capital “D”) refers to individuals who share a common culture based on their common use of sign language as well as their values, views, and norms as individuals. The term “deaf” (lowercase “d”) is the physical condition of not being able to hear.]