Deaf people are one of the largest unreached groups in the world. Estimates of the number of global Deaf range widely. It is estimated that only 2 to 4 percent are Christians.
When working with the Deaf, it is important to recognize the importance of their Deaf culture. It is, in essence, part of their uniqueness as an individual, not something that needs to be “fixed.” As with other special needs groups, the Deaf need to be seen for who they are and not what they cannot do.
The terms “hard of hearing” or “hearing impaired” typically refer to people who have a significant loss of hearing but retain some residual hearing. Often people identifying themselves as hard of hearing identify with their mainstream culture and perceive their hearing challenges as something to overcome.
Five Goals of Possibility Ministries and Deaf/Hard of Hearing Populations
- Accessibility. Possibility Ministries assists church leaders in learning how to make all structures, buildings, and programs available to all. The point of this goal is to provide an environment in which the deaf and hard of hearing feel welcome and have access to all areas of church life, regardless of her or his physical condition. It is important to realize that deaf worshipers may or may not wish to join the main congregation for the church service. Many elements of the church service are not meaningful for individuals who cannot hear. If deaf worshipers do wish to join the main congregation, a space should be planned for their interpreter at the front of the sanctuary.
- Education. The goal is to train people without special needs and those who are deaf and hard of hearing to work collaboratively in building God’s kingdom. Resources should be continually developed for and made available to church members. These resources will provide guidance for the inclusion of individuals with special needs throughout the church structure.
- Encouragement. The focus of this goal is to promote participation in all aspects of church life. Providing a safe, loving environment within all levels of the church for all people is the privilege of every Christian.
- Accommodation. The goal is to help God’s family be inclusive in principle and practice. Possibility Ministries promotes the inclusion of qualified persons with special needs in church committees, forums, volunteer service opportunities, and other ministries. These activities should be planned with accommodations in mind.
- Ministry/Service. A major goal for each Possibility Ministry is to work towards restoring a sense of dignity and personal worth in the individuals served. Linked with this objective is both the discovery of hidden talents and the use of one’s talents in the service to others. The example of Jesus was clearly reaching out with understanding, hope, and belief in the individual while opening doors of opportunity for service. Restoring meaning to life is at the heart of all forms of Possibility Ministries.
Conclusion: Living with deafness or a hearing impairment can be challenging. It can be isolating, as one can be surrounded by people and yet not feel truly involved in what is happening. We must also remember, however, that the Deaf do have a community and while in that community they are not alone. The opportunity to share the gospel with a largely unreached population has presented itself; certainly, then, the church must respond. We have been called to conquer barriers, to make inclusive communities, to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual, and to welcome all people into the family of God.