SIGNS OF HOPE
Today journalist Nicolette Ferreira visits Deaf Christian Ministry Africa, a training facility for Deaf ministers who long to be God’s signing hands in this world.“We can do anything but hear, so treat us as normal beings”. This outcry led to the establishment of the National Institute for the Deaf (NID) in South Africa. Founded in Worcester in 1881, NID is a registered and accredited Non-Profit-Organisation and its vision is to develop the full potential of all Deaf and hard-of-hearing people. There are approximately 412 421 Deaf people (they prefer being referred to as Deaf with an uppercase ‘D’) and approximately 1 237 264 extremely hard-of-hearing people in South Africa (hereafter the latter is also included in my references to the ‘Deaf’).
Christ for the Deaf by the Deaf
One of the very unique courses at NID is Deaf Christian Ministry Africa (DCMA), established in 2006. Its vision is Jesus Christ for the Deaf by the Deaf, with a specific focus on Africa. The most valuable way to reach the Deaf with Christ’s message is to train the Deaf themselves as pastors. And how will the Deaf hear about the Creator if it is not ‘spoken’ to them in their own language and culture?
DCMA trains students in a deaf-friendly way (through Sign Language, of which there is, do note, not just one standardised version!) to plant churches and to counsel and minister to Deaf communities in Sign Language, all within the structures of the different church denominations. The syllabus at DCMA consists of material from Veritas College International and the course is presented over four years. These students are eventually placed, as ordained ministers or pastors, at organisations and churches who are willing to be involved in the world of the Deaf. I had the privilege of meeting the ‘hearing head’ of DCMA, Reverend Jan Oberholzer (firstname.lastname@example.org), as well as the Deaf dominees in training!
Student Anthony Salie opened our interview with a prayer in Sign Language. This reminded me of one of the earliest references to this language in the Bible: “Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child” (Luke 1:62). Unlike the case of John’s naming by his father, Zechariah, we definitely had no time to use “writing tablets” and the ever calm and kind Reverend Jan was there to translate!
Signs for Africa
Over a casual ‘conversation’ (which consisted of me talking too fast, gesticulating nervously, and naively announcing that I just want to switch on the voice recorder – silly, silly me), the ministers-in-training before me shared their dreams for DCMA: They have recently completed an extensive missionary tour to the Northern and Eastern Cape, Freestate and Kwazulu-Natal and would like to expand such outreaches to other African countries. Colette Gouws wants to develop material for persons who are both deaf and blind, so that they too can grow in a relationship with Christ.
Amazing! Have you ever thought about how Jesus’ story is told to the deaf and blind? Another student, Elsabé Döman, has already developed material to help deaf children and their parents (contact Elsabé at email@example.com for information on a charming DVD entitled “Bybelstories vir Dowe Kinders”). Student Rensie Aggenbach has a heart for music for the Deaf, an interesting concept which I cannot yet fully grasp: He has printed a music book with deaf-friendly words!
The blessing of Deaf-friendly Christian material only really struck me on my way home after the interview while I was tapping my fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of Michael W. Smith. As a hearing person I have many opportunities for growth in my walk with Christ: I can listen to a Beth Moore DVD, listen to Tree63 or attend a sermon by Bruce Marciano. At the recent Angus Buchan’s Mighty Men Conference there were 300 Deaf people (including three of the students at DCMA). Are there enough such opportunities for the Deaf in South Africa?
Hennie Burger explains that, although conferences with translators for the Deaf are noble ideas, in reality it is very hard for them to follow the impassioned, spirit-filled and consequently fast-talking speaker. Translation is also tricky: our ‘hearing language’ is completely different to the language of the Deaf (which Phumie Jemane assures me is not Bobbejanetaal!). The Deaf see in pictures and for them our language is very abstract: with translation something gets lost. The students at DCMA ask that people like Angus will go to them! “We want to be a part of what is going on in the hearing world.” As we plan Outreaches in our own churches, may we nOt forget about the salvation and spiritual growth of thE Deaf.
Some questions answered
Dear Today reader, I wish I could share everything I learned from my new Deaf friends in Christ with you over a piece of chocolate cake! Here are just a few questions I asked:
Q: Is it true that your other senses become strengthened when one is taken away? What is your experience of music?
A: Yes! We cannot hear someone enteRing a room, but we can smell that person (hmmm, I wonder what they smelled when I came in… it must have been the chocolate log I had for breakfast!) Concerning music: we can feel the vibrations, but cannot form a concept of sound – no hip-hop, no blues or classical music (and no snoring or chatting after lights out!)
Q: What would you like to hear?
A: Soothing sounds like music and birds. Phumie confidently stated: “Nothing! There is nothing I would like to hear, I hear God’s voice and that is all I need.” Awesome!
Q: What stupid things do hearing people do? (Besides saying goodbye in your ear like I did to Elsabé before I left!)
A: They call us on our cellphones – especially the banks. Of course we can email and sms, but what must we hear when we pick up the phone? We also often stand in queues for a very long time, as we cannot hear our names being called out.
Q: How can people be more ‘Deaf-conscious’?
A: When struggling to speak to a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person, please don’t say ‘never mind’! Do take the time to try and communicate with us – we are not stupid! Use your hands to explain, talk slowly and calmly, but don’t form your mouth in a funny way – talk normally (I’m pretty sure I didn’t do this!). Also remember that just because someone is Deaf, it does not mean he or she cannot speak (although it might be in a different way to what we are used to) – deaf and numb are two seperate things (unlike vinkel en koljander!)
I end this article with a prayer that I hope you will all pray with me: God, may there be, in every church on the face of Africa, in my own church, at least one person with a heart for the Deaf and hard-of-hearing. And may we, as DCMA student Jaco van Wyk so beautifully put it, build unyielding bridges between the hearing and the Deaf.STOCK TAKE:
How can we get involved?
1) Do you have contacts in Africa? Help DCMA to get connected so that they can spread the message of our Saviour to those who cannot hear.
2) Invite the Deaf to your church services, build relationships and open your doors!
3) Go to http://www.deafnet.co.za for more information and find out how you can contribute financially.