Deaf Ministry Done Well (1)
Toward the end of the twentieth century, missions organizations started realizing how much the gospel and the church thrived when local natives were the primary ministers in their communities. Genesis declares a time when all the world had one culture and one language, then God deliberately changed things. Out of many different languages grew many different cultures. God Himself is the author of diversity, therefore it’s a good thing that brings glory to Him.
I’ve recently returned from a roadtrip that allowed me to worship in two deaf congregations. Both were a treat…almost as good as going “home” to South Bend and the folks of the Deaf Michiana Missionary Church (DMMC).
The congregation in Knoxville worships in a second sanctuary of the whole church. According to their website, the Deaf congregation started with four deaf ladies who sought to join the church in April of 1868. In writing, they affirmed their faith and became members. They were joined in 1874 by twelve children from the Tennessee School for the Deaf (TSD). Starting in 1922, sermons were regularly interpreted by TSD teacher Laura Formwalt, one of many longstanding connections between the church and the school. The Sunday School class she taught grew from seven to over one hundred members during her 45 years in the ministry. Through the years they became their own congregation, not simply an appendix to the hearing church. To quote, “At First Baptist Church Knoxville, we are two congregations but one church family.”
The congregation in Atlanta worships in their own building, since being founded in 1902. According to their website, Atlanta’s deaf christians were scattered among hearing congregations until Mr. W.F. Crusselle aided them in finding a building. Rev. Samuel Freeman, a deaf minister and teacher retired from the Georgia School for the Deaf, was their first pastor. In 1962 they purchased their current building and have since added to it. Members worked together to build both the building and the congregation. Today they continue to work together, representing Christ throughout their community with food and clothing drives, donations, counseling resources, and prison and youth home outreach. To quote, “In addition to being advocates for the Deaf community in the State of Georgia, CF Church has, for over 100 years, provided an environment for Deaf and hearing Christians alike to worship, fellowship, and prepare themselves to engage the world for Christ.”
DMMC started as a Deaf Bible Study in 1996, an answer to years of prayer and an example of what God does when we are faithful to follow His leading. The story is worthy of its own blog post. For ten years, they have co-hosted an annual picnic with other deaf churches in the Northern Indiana area. DMMC has been a training ground and springboard for missionaries and interpreters who now serve all over the world. To quote, “God is good and faithful.”
When people can freely worship God and serve others according to their own language and culture, the saving gospel is clear and God’s glory is increased. That’s ministry done well.