Cherish Your Deaf Brothers and Sisters!
GOD’S people today are a large family of spiritual brothers and sisters, whose heritage can be traced back to men and women of ancient times. These include Samuel, David, Samson, Rahab, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Noah, and Abel. Among Jehovah’s loyal servants are many deaf individuals. For example, the first two people to become Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mongolia were a deaf couple. And as a result of the integrity of our deaf fellow believers in Russia, we obtained a legal victory in the European Court of Human Rights.
In modern times, “the faithful and discreet slave” has provided sign-language publications and has organized congregations as well as assemblies and conventions in sign language. (Matt. 24:45) These have benefited the deaf greatly.* But have you ever wondered what it was like for the deaf to learn about the true God and make progress in the truth without these provisions? Have you thought about what you might do to help the deaf who live in your community?
Before Modern-Day Provisions
What if you were to ask some older deaf ones about their experience in coming to know God? They may tell you how they felt when they first learned that God has a name—how that single truth changed their life and sustained them for years before sign-language video programs or DVDs became available to help them learn deeper Scriptural truths. They may explain what it was like when Christian meetings were not conducted or interpreted into sign language. Instead, someone would sit next to them and write notes on a sheet of paper to help them understand what was being said. One deaf brother learned Bible truths in this way for seven years before an interpreter finally came along.
Older deaf Witnesses remember what it was like to engage in the “hearing” field ministry. In one hand, they held up an index card with a simple door-to-door presentation written on it. They would hold the latest Watchtower and Awake! magazines in the other hand. It was a struggle to conduct a Bible study with another deaf person using only printed publications that neither of them understood very well. Older deaf publishers likely recall the frustration they experienced when they were not understood and therefore could not talk further about spiritual truths. They also know how it feels to have a profound love for Jehovah yet be unable to act upon it confidently. Why? Because they were not sure that their understanding of a particular matter was correct.
Despite all these obstacles, our deaf brothers and sisters have been holding fast their integrity. (Job 2:3) They have longingly waited for Jehovah. (Ps. 37:7) And he is now blessing them with more than many of them had ever anticipated.
Consider the efforts made by a certain deaf brother who is a husband and a father. Before sign-language videos became available, he faithfully took the lead in conducting the family study. His son recalls: “The family study was always difficult for my father, since all he had to teach us from were the printed publications. Often, he did not fully understand the written text. We youngsters didn’t help much either. We would be quick to let him know when he didn’t explain things correctly. Despite all of this, he always held the family study. He felt that our learning something about Jehovah was more important than his occasional embarrassment because of his limitations in understanding English.”
There is also the example of Richard, a brother in his 70’s who is both deaf and blind and who lives in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. Richard is well-known for his regularity at Christian meetings. To attend, he takes the subway by himself, counting the stops so that he knows when to get off. One winter, there was such a severe snowstorm that the meeting was canceled. All in the congregation were notified, but somehow Richard was not informed. When the brothers realized what had happened and searched for him, they found Richard standing outside the Kingdom Hall, waiting patiently for the doors to open. When asked why he went out in the storm, he replied, “I love Jehovah.”
What Can You Do?
Do deaf people live in your area? Could you learn some sign language in order to communicate with them? Deaf people are usually very gracious and patient when teaching others their language. You may meet a deaf person informally or in the ministry. What can you do? Try to communicate. Use gestures, notes, drawings, pictures, or a combination of these. Even if the individual indicates that he is not interested in the truth, tell a Witness who is deaf or knows sign language about your visit. The message may be more appealing to a deaf person when it is presented in sign language.
Perhaps you are learning sign language and attend a sign-language congregation. How can you become more skilled in signing and understanding the language? Although there may be other hearing publishers in your congregation, why not “turn off” your voice? This will help you to think in sign language, that is, visually. At times, you may be tempted to take the easy way out by speaking. When learning any language, however, you must endure the growing pains to become fluent.
Putting forth diligent effort to use sign language shows love and respect for our deaf brothers and sisters. Imagine the feelings of frustration the deaf experience day in and day out because of not being able to understand people at work or at school. “Every day, people all around me speak,” said one deaf brother. “Often feelings of loneliness and being left out build up inside, and I become exasperated, even angry. Words cannot fully describe how I feel at times.” Our meetings should be an oasis where our deaf brothers and sisters receive spiritual food and enjoy warm communication and fellowship.—John 13:34, 35.
Not to be overlooked are the many smaller groups of deaf individuals that meet together with hearing congregations. The meetings are interpreted for them. To understand fully what is presented, deaf members of the congregation sit at the front of the Kingdom Hall. This enables them to see both the interpreter and the speaker in the same line of sight without hindrance. Experience has shown that the rest of the congregation gets used to this rather quickly, and it is not a distraction. These arrangements also apply to assemblies and conventions that offer sign-language interpreting. Hardworking members of the congregation deserve warm commendation for interpreting as a deaf person might express the information—meaningfully and naturally.
Perhaps you belong to a congregation that sponsors a sign-language group or that has a smaller number of deaf people for whom the meetings are interpreted. What can you do to show these deaf brothers personal attention? Invite them to your home. If possible, learn a few signs. Do not be intimidated by the barrier of communication. You will find a way to communicate, and showing such love will result in enjoyable memories. (1 John 4:8) Our deaf fellow Witnesses have much to offer. They are great conversationalists, are keenly insightful, and have a wonderful sense of humor. Says one brother whose parents are both deaf: “All my life I have been around deaf people, and they have given me far more than I could ever repay. We can learn a lot from our deaf brothers and sisters.”
Jehovah loves his faithful worshippers, including those who are deaf. Their example of faith and endurance certainly adds to the richness of Jehovah’s organization. May we therefore cherish our deaf brothers and sisters!
See the article “Jehovah Has Made His Face Shine Toward Them,” in the August 15, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.
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The Kingdom message may be more appealing to a deaf person when it is presented in sign language
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Our meetings should be an oasis where our deaf brothers and sisters receive spiritual encouragement