Reaching the Deaf around the Globe

Deaf interpreter

Over 20 years ago, Doc and Dee Douglas* started their journey, across the world, sharing the gospel through Bible stories to the Deaf community. Dee was born to deaf parents, and her first/heart language is American Sign Language. She is gifted when it comes to sign language and Deaf culture. Doc was born to hearing parents and had no background in American Sign Language. He is gifted in administration, theology, and leadership.

Doc says, “Our primary way of sharing the gospel has been through Bible stories. Whether in random conversations or if we are in a planned strategy to engage deaf people in a particular city, there is always the introduction of a story—the ‘avenue in’ to sharing the gospel.” The Deaf are storytellers themselves, and a natural way of drawing them into conversation of the gospel is through Scripture stories.

The Douglases stand firm in the fact that “relationships are foundational to bringing people into serious discipleship and leadership training.” They ask the Lord each morning to lead them to the people with whom He wants them to share the gospel. This time of prayer gives the Douglases assurance that God is preparing their hearts to listen and hear. They intentionally look for ways to tie a person’s life, experience, or current situation to a Bible story. “When we see the faces of people who are learning for the very first time that the Creator of the universe made them just the way they are—deaf, but not defective—they demonstrate an urgency to find out the whole story.”

The hardest part about the Douglases’ work is dealing with people who view the Deaf in a limiting way, by keeping them enslaved to practices that are unnatural to them. There is not a single complete Bible printed in any of the sign languages among the Deaf nations with whom they work. The Douglases served 10 years in 10 European countries, moved to East Asia for 5 years, and in the last 5 years served in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, West Africa, and Mexico. “All of the places mentioned are unique and would take hundreds of words to describe”, they said.

The Douglases have been actively working on Scripture translation projects, which are visual translations that encompass the heart language of the Deaf. These projects take time, money, and national partnerships to strengthen and complete. There are countries in Eastern Europe and East Asia where 100–200 Bible stories have been translated into national sign languages.

Jesus tells a story about 2 men who built houses—1 on the sand and another on the rock, 2 different foundations. Matthew 7:25 says, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” The one who hears Jesus’ words and obeys them is like the wise builder in Matthew 7. Mr. Douglas says, “Without a doubt, God calls us to follow Him and to be accountable to all that He asks us to do. Once a person says they believe in Christ, it is just the beginning.” The Douglases always start with a story. One story will lead to another, and these stories always open doors for them.

Mr. Douglas shares, “Only about 2% of deafness is genetic, so there are not many deaf families that we meet. However, many deaf children have hearing parents that they want to come to faith, and many deaf parents have hearing children that they want to know Jesus. We often target families with hearing and Deaf people alike.” The Douglases have found that children have an incredible way of remembering all of the details of the stories they tell. Children are often eager to retell the story, which leads to the story being told, retold, and told again. Innocence leads to learning, which in turn leads to teaching.

Please join us in praying for Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, the hearts of the Deaf communities that have yet to be engaged, and courage among deaf believers and leaders. Ask the Lord to provide more workers in the field. Mrs. Douglas’s favorite Scripture is Proverbs 3:5–6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” As we meditate on this Scripture, let us remember to place our full trust in the Lord. Like the Douglases, let us listen, learn, grow, teach, and tell.

*Names changed

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By Tessa Harvill

Tessa is an intern at National WMU. She is a senior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, majoring in Communication Studies, with a focus in Public Relations. She enjoys quality time spent with family and friends, loves any and all things Disney, and is excited to be graduating in December! In her spare time, Tessa finds joy in helping others, photography, watching movies, and listening to music.

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