Teach the Way They Understand
If they don’t understand the way you teach, then teach the way they understand.
Missionary Bob Himes
As any introductory speech class professor might tell you, in order to be an effective communicator, you have to know your audience. As you teach the Bible to the Deaf, be sure to consider who is sitting in the pews.
Some Deaf are wonderful signers, but others, especially older Deaf and those in developing countries, began learning Sign Language in their teen or adult years and have very limited vocabulary and grammar.
¿How do you communicate with a Deaf person who has limited Sign Language? Graphics, gestures and physical objects are essential.
Santiago and Victoria are an older Deaf couple in our church who have attended faithfully for years now, but they know very little Sign Language. When I visit their home, we are constantly pointing at photographs, calendars, documents, and flyers. These physical references provide structure and substance to our conversation.
Tell a mixed audience that David killed a giant named Goliath, and you are likely to spend several minutes explaining what you mean when you say Goliath was a giant, and many low-verbal Deaf will still be confused. Who was the giant, David or Goliath? Why did David wave his hand around his head? Did you say that birds ate someone’s eyes?
If you show them an illustration of David and Goliath, they immediately get the picture. Bring a sword and a slingshot, and show a video clip from one of the many film or television portrayals… soon everyone in the church has understood exactly what happened, and you can make the application to their lives.
Lay a Foundation
Do your Deaf know who David and Moses were? Are they familiar with the word salvation, or sin? Do they even know who God is?
My father, veteran missionary to the Deaf Joe Kotvas, often tells how he met a Deaf man in Saint Luis, Missouri who appeared to have no concept of God. First, he asked the man if he knew what the sign for “God” meant. The man said, “No.” My father spelled “G-O-D,” and again the Deaf man, thirty years old in the heartland of America, had no idea who God was.
The Deaf man, thirty years old in the heartland of America, had no idea who God was.
Concepts build upon concepts, so be sure Deaf people know what sin is before you explain that Jesus died to forgive their sin. In fact, the other day in our mission church, we sang the song “The Lord is My Shepherd,” but I had to stop and explain what the sign for “sheep” meant! You will find people at all levels of understanding and knowledge. Don’t teach at them; teach them.
What strategies do you use to be sure you are teaching the Deaf the way they understand? Leave your comments here!