First Baptist Church in Haverhill, MA, is intentionally reaching out to a local people group that rarely has the opportunity to learn about Christ in their native language – the deaf.
Most recently, church members and leaders hosted Deaf Appreciation Sunday, dedicating the entire Sunday service on July 21 to deaf individuals. Jon Hayhow, a deaf church planter and the pastor of Living Hope Deaf Church in Manchester, Conn., preached in American Sign Language. His wife, Lori, vocally interpreted for the hearing. Twenty-six deaf visitors, mostly from the Haverhill area, came to the service.
Connecting with the Deaf
“Deaf people are essentially an unreached people group,” said Kina Forman, who serves as assistant to the lead pastor. “We want to engage our community, including those who might not hearken the doors of a church otherwise.”
This interest in connecting with deaf community began simply – with ASL interpretation during the Sunday morning service for one deaf member. From there, awareness of the language barrier grew.
“A number of FBC folks indicated a desire to learn how to communicate through sign language with our deaf attenders,” Forman said.
Madeline Olio-Ruano, a deaf church member, offered to teach a beginner ASL course. In less than a year, the class has grown beyond expectations, enrolling more than 15 students who hope to communicate with deaf people in the church and in the community.
Disciple-Makers of All People
Through the classes, students are learning the importance of sharing the Gospel and being disciple-makers of all people, especially those who are deaf.
“We want to be a church, enabled by the gifting and purpose of God, who reaches any people group He brings. For the sake of deaf attenders, we are diligently equipping folks to communicate clearly with the hope of spreading the Gospel,” Forman said.
In addition to empowering church members to build relationships with the deaf, ASL classes also help the church connect with people who are interested in sign language.
One student who joined the class was in search of a church and did not know where to start. She began reading from the Bible app on her phone and eventually asked Forman for a Bible.
According to Forman, the key to a successful deaf ministry is prayer. She encourages believers to pray for deaf people to understand and embrace the Gospel and for God to raise up deaf leaders.
Emily Greer is the communications intern at the Baptist Convention of New England. She also serves as a collegiate ministry associate in Worcester, MA.