Seventy-five participants from Europe gathered for what was to be the 95th anniversary of the Deaf work in Germany. In many ways it seemed like a Pentecostal experience. Eight different languages were being spoken simultaneously (English, German, Italian, French, Latvian, Finnish, Spanish and German with many of these with their own corresponding sign language) as the various presentations were made. Deaf interpreters had to first hear the presentations in their own language before they could sign for the Deaf in their language. It was an amazing microcosm of the church in Europe. The enthusiasm was stimulating. There was a high degree of spiritual interest as experiences were shared and future plans made. One of the great needs of the Deaf around the world is social networking and this was a key to the success of these meetings. Deaf individuals are so often isolated that meetings like this are not only appreciated but needed. As these European Deaf listened to global reports of the Deaf work, a sense of excitement swept through the group. There were signs that their feelings of being marginalized and neglected were gradually being addressed. Emphasis was made on the fact that they are part of the Church, not because of their “disability” (or lack of a “disability”) but because they are as equal as anyone else who has also been created in the image of God. As obvious as that might seem, unintentional impressions are sometimes given to the contrary.
Some day reaching the Deaf will become part of the strategic planning agenda for every level of the church. The Deaf number over 250 million worldwide, yet only 2% are Christian. They are indeed an unreached people group. We are out to change our world. It may be slow but we begin by first recognizing that this is God’s world and the Deaf are His people. With that settled we now begin to realize we have a “stewardship” responsibility of reaching out to this group. We are not alone in this work. There are hopeful signs that God is and has been intervening.
A great deal of planning went into this German Deaf congress, which was held about an hour from Dusseldorf, Germany at a church owned retreat center. The organizers of this event were Gerd Wildemann, a pastor and coordinator of the Department of the Deaf in Germany, and Bastian Bak, a theology student and sign language interpreter at the Theological Seminary Friedensau. These individuals, along with the assistance of Corrado Cozzi, Inter-European Division Liaison for the Deaf and Communications Director were instrumental in the carefully planned congress.
A special invitation was given to Pastor Henry Kamau of Kenya to be one of the speakers. Henry is deaf and is nearly finished with his theology degree in Kenya. The East Central Africa Division Director for Deaf Ministries, Elam Mussoni, also attended to learn what he could from this congress. When Deaf from around the world visit other Deaf centers ideas for improving work for the Deaf are generated. This is an exciting development! Dr. Rolf Pohler, a long-time advocate for the Deaf and now a theology professor from Friedensau Seminary was also a speaker. Social events were designed to build social bonding among the Deaf. One very special event was the attendance of a mime production by Carlos Martinez, a professionally trained actor from Barcelona, Spain who later directed his talents towards portraying Christian messages as a mime. The silent language of the mime in the “My Bible” pantomime spoke to the hearts of the Deaf. Many thanks are in order to Jenny Findeis, the tour manager for Martinez, for making the arrangements.
By Pastor Larry Evans