Missions Field of Many Languages for California Missionary

In his missions field, California missionary Howard Burkhart is often surrounded by people whose language he can’t always understand. That one daunting fact hasn’t stopped him from founding churches among 21 different language groups for the past 3 decades.

In 1984, Burkhart signed on with the North American Mission Board, then called the Home Mission Board, as the state missionary for Deaf people. His wife, a high school teacher for Deaf students in Southern California, taught him sign language. For 16 years, Burkhart worked with hearing-impaired people, all the while learning.

“Deaf people don’t expect everyone to learn their language,” he said. “They do expect to be treated as peers and as equals.”

Further, Burkhart said, hearing-impaired individuals have just as much right to pursue God’s call in their lives as anyone else.

“It has been extremely rewarding to have helped start several Deaf churches and trained Deaf pastors and leaders,” he said. “To see them fulfill God’s calling in their life and to see the impact they have made has been rewarding and fulfilling.”

Since 2000, Burkhart has expanded his missions focus to include people of multiple language groups. Good relationships among people aren’t restricted by spoken language, Burkhart said.

“Just be a friend,” he said. “Befriend people from other countries.”

Starting a ministry for the Deaf or those of a different cultural background is a great way to start, Burkhart said.

“Every planter and people group has its own history and journey,” Burkhart said.

“Each has a unique calling and giftedness, training, and experience.”

One practical application is to start a ministry for a specific ethnic group found in your community, Burkhart said.

“If your church or a nearby church does work in another country, why not find that people group here,” he asked.

It’s less about forcing people to adapt to your spoken English language congregation and more about reaching those people in ways they can understand, Burkhart said.

“I could have never imagined the journey God has led me on,” Burkhart said. “I have absolutely loved and cherished the opportunity to serve God in this capacity.”

Jamie H. Wilson is a freelance writer from upstate South Carolina.

Back to Top