28 Jan 2008
Walls that protect the lives and property of residents in Southern Africa are common. These barriers, … easily seen but difficult to cross, … are accepted as a way of life. But, there is a different kind of barrier that is only apparent to some. It is the barrier that surrounds the Deaf person. It is a barrier that is ever-present but serves no tangible purpose. Rather than a wall of brick and mortar, it is a barrier of communication.
The barrier frequently confines the Deaf to a lifetime of isolation, … to a feeling that life has little meaning. Society and family members often see deafness as a curse or punishment by the spirits or the gods. Few, if any, of the family and friends learn to communicate through sign language. Deaf people grow up with little intimate communication and often feel at a loss when interacting with others.
The Deaf have difficulty in most environments requiring social interaction. It is hard to make friends. Often, the Deaf only feel at home when they interact with those who communicate using sign language. This may be in Deaf schools, on sports teams, and in social gatherings. The school environment can also be especially difficult and seldom provides a meaningful education because many teachers and administrators do not sign fluently. As a result, most Deaf are functionally illiterate even after 12 years of attending school.
Jobs for adults are few and far between, especially among the Deaf with an unemployment rate as high as 60%. Available jobs usually involve manual labor at the bottom rung of society. The Deaf person is left isolated even in a crowd. The communication barrier continues unabated with little hope of help from others.
While sign language interpreters are growing in number, many Deaf still struggle to understand and be understood. The dialects of South African Sign Language mirror the fact that South Africa has eleven officially recognized languages as well as many other unofficial languages throughout the country. At times, this diversity of dialects makes communication difficult among the Deaf themselves.
South Africa has 21st century technology including high-speed Internet, but few in the Deaf community have this window to the world. Most cannot afford a home telephone so few use TTY’s for communication, usually relying on cell phones with text messaging to keep in touch with others. For the Deaf of this part of the world, life is much like that of the Deaf in the United States in the 1960’s. Closed captions on television and in movie theaters are almost non-existent in Southern Africa.
Religion is of great interest to those living here, and the Deaf … like hearing people … are greatly shaped by religion and the spirit world. However, the truth of God’s Word is often clouded or non-existent. Many trust in the spirits of their ancestors, … in the sangomas or other traditional healers, … and in a mixture of Christianity and African traditional beliefs. There are Muslim mosques and Hindu temples along with nearly every other cult, sect and religion that can be imagined. Because of social and economic pressures, most people follow the religion of their family.
The Deaf have little opportunity to discover the truth of God’s Word. Poor reading skills make it difficult to search the scriptures or to read pamphlets to learn about God. Very few churches provide an interpreter and often the Deaf person is unable to understand the interpreter when available. This problem is further compounded in that many “churches” do not teach the Word of God and salvation through faith in Jesus. There are 350,000 Deaf people in South Africa, but … fewer than 1,000 believe in Jesus Christ. Yet, … among the hundreds of Baptist congregations, only one church has reached out to the Deaf by providing an interpreted service. There is presently no Bible school or seminary that is accessible to Deaf Christians, due to lack of interpreters and signing instructors.
Tearing down the communication barrier surrounding the Deaf is a God-sized task.
God is using Christians of different ethnic backgrounds, … Deaf and hearing, South African and international, … to reach Deaf people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished through evangelism, discipleship, and church planting using Chronological Bible Storying in South African Sign Language. God is using Deaf Christians to transform the written Word into a visual Word. They learn not only the stories, but also the skills to apply God’s Word in their daily lives. Following the Biblical instruction given in Second Timothy 2:2, Deaf Christians are learning the Bible stories and teaching them to others who will then teach others. This is being done one-on-one in the homes of believers as well as in weekly discipleship groups. They also have worship times where large groups meet and praise in a manner that both they and God understand. In a year’s time, most who believed they could not learn and tell the stories of God’s Word are now enthusiastically telling the stories to each other, to other Deaf, and to hearing friends and family members.
God is tearing down the walls of isolation by drawing Deaf believers together to form Deaf churches, … many being led by Deaf Christians.
Will you pray that God will raise up and send faithful workers, … Southern Africans and internationals, … who will share God’s Word with the Deaf of Southern Africa?
Will you pray that God will raise up and equip Christians who can translate His stories into the different African Sign Languages breaking down the barriers of communication?
Will you join God in His work among the Deaf of Southern Africa?
“How can people have faith in the Lord and ask Him to save them,
if they have never heard about Him?
And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?”
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