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Prayer, training & evangelism highlight annual Deaf meeting

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Hand gestures and facial expressions conveyed the enthusiasm of approximately 700 participants representing eight different nationalities in this summer’s 53rd annual Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf.

“This year’s conference was a week full of powerful Deaf music, presentations, testimonies of Deaf lives that have been changed, dramatic and powerful messages in sign language from Deaf pastors, and fellowship with hands flying endlessly into the wee hours of the morning,” said Phillip Easterling, SBCD president and pastor of Ocean View Baptist Deaf Church in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Easterling said he uses a capital “D” when referring to the Deaf.

“When you say someone is Deaf, you recognize the individual as belonging to a culture group,” he told the Florida Baptist Witness. “It is essential for the hearing church to recognize that the Deaf comprise one of the largest unreached people groups. There are anywhere from 30 to 75 million Deaf worldwide.”

Sessions focused on prayer and study of the Bible, stewardship and church history, and there were opportunities to play golf, basketball, bowl and meet other Deaf people. Young people could attend special classes designed for their age levels.

The conference put forth “a challenge to penetrate every Deaf community worldwide with the gospel through planting Deaf churches,” Easterling said.

Hetty Otto, interpreter for the Deaf at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., recounted, “It was really busy at the conference, but the most exciting time for me was the worship service every evening, especially the world mission night.” The SBCD’s June 23-28 services at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach were led by Deaf people. During one of the services, five people made professions of faith and were baptized.

Another highlight this year was an afternoon of sharing the gospel with hearing and non-hearing alike in an outdoor mall. Deaf performers sang, performed a drama and distributed a tract called “Good News for the Deaf.”

Ken Winters, minister of global missions ministry at the West Palm Beach church, noted that outreach by the Deaf themselves has become a key principle.

“We started with signing our services in the 1980s,” he said. “But we learned that this really is beyond translation.

“I had to learn that the Deaf are not handicapped but a different culture and speak a different language,” said Winters, who can hear. To explain, he shared an incident from the conference during which the hearing audience could not understand the spoken translation of a Deaf Japanese pastor.

“But the Deaf participants, no matter where they were from, could understand what he was saying. You are Deaf first and your nationality comes second,” Winters said.

According to the North American Mission Board, deafness affects every segment of society, and nearly 12 million people in the United States are deaf or hearing impaired. American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most commonly used language in America.

Southern Baptists formally started to work in Deaf ministries with the formation of the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf (SBCD) in 1948. The organization began because J.W. Garner, a Deaf missionary for the former Home Mission Board, saw a need for support and mutual encouragement.

Today, SBCD is directed by Deaf people, and NAMB offers resources for people or churches interested in ministering among the Deaf. One resource offered is the Interpreter Training Program that provides classes such as interpreting music, oral interpreting and fingerspelling. Currently, more than 60 churches for the Deaf are active in the Southern Baptist Convention, along with more than 650 interpreting ministries.

For more information, contact Hetty Otto at (727) 531-1275 or www.SBCDeaf.org.
(BP) illustration posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GOOD NEWS TRACT.

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  • Janice Backer