Ministering to The Deaf-Blind
If you read this blog, you probably know the world has not enough churches equipped to minister to the Deaf. However, of that group, there are even fewer who can minister to the Deaf-Blind! The Deaf-Blind people of the world need the grace of Jesus Christ just as much as any person on the face of the Earth and it is our responsibility, as the Church, to bring that Good News to every creature. However, how can we do this? Where do we start? I hope I can give you some guidance in this quick article.
I am not an expert in ministering to the Deaf-Blind community. There is still a lot for me to learn. However, I have already learned a few things at CrossRoads about reaching this group that I hope to share. In Daytona Beach, we have an abnormally high concentration of Deaf-Blind people due to a couple of training programs for the blind in our area. Many come for work training, find an apartment and job, and decide to stay. Having had several people with varying levels of blindness and deafness at CrossRoads, I have learned a few things that I simply want to share about ministering to the Deaf-Blind and what we can do as leaders to make our churches more accessible.
Having a Deaf and Blind person in your church can be daunting… Even so, there are some simple things you can do to make it possible!
Having a Deaf and Blind person in your church can be daunting. It requires more interpreters (We have had up to four interpreters at the same time in our church to accommodate the Deaf-blind people in our ministry), specialized skills, sighted guides, and all kinds of little things you would never think about. Even so, there are some simple things you can do to make it possible!
Ask what they need. The number one thing you can do to learn what is needed is simply to ask. Deaf and Blind people all have varying levels of needs. Some need tactile interpreting, some need you to use a smaller signing space, some even need to sit further back. The tricking thing is, it is always different! If you don’t ask, you will never know.
Learn the necessary interpreting skills. You need to be willing to think out of the box on who is Interpreting. Perhaps you might have people in your ministry (hearing or deaf) who already have experience interpreting for people with low vision. To refer back to my first point, ask the deaf-blind people to show you how to interpret for them. All of the Deaf and blind people I have worked with have always been willing to give me tips to improve my tactile and close-up interpreting and even, in the beginning, teach me how to interpret for them. They will be elated that you are making an effort!
Learn how to be an SSP. SSP stands for “Support Service Provider,” which simply means a person who acts as a sighted guide to a Deaf-Blind person. They also relay environmental information, such as when you are about to go down a curb or up a flight of stairs. I was surprised to learn that there is a standardized system for this. There is a not-for-profit in my town that offered free classes on this and several people (Deaf and hearing) took this class. Ask Deaf-Blind people in your area about similar resources. It was worth every second!
Involve them! Before I had met a deaf-blind person, I had no idea what to expect as to how involved they would want to become in our ministry. I learned that, when I made opportunities available, the Deaf-Blind people in my church got fired up about serving God! One became a LIFE group teacher and backup preacher in our ministry while he was living in Daytona Beach. He also played a Roman soldier in our church’s Christmas drama, Walk Through Bethlehem and is still an avid witness to the Lord. Another won her friend to the Lord and that friend went on to become a faithful member of our church. When we did our Deaf Christmas outreach, one of the biggest groups in attendance was from our local “Division of Blind Services” because our Deaf-blind members were so actively inviting their friends. Be willing to fully involve the Deaf-blind in your ministry and God will be just as willing to use them as he is to use you!
This post is less of a “how-to” on ministering to the Deaf-blind, and more of an encouragement to take up the challenge when the need arises. This facet of Deaf ministry is difficult. However, I will also confidently say that it is worth it!
What is your experience with Deaf-blind ministry? Share it in the comments!