Just two percent of the Deaf worldwide have been introduced to Jesus. Like all people who don’t yet know the hope of Christ, the Deaf need to see Him reflected in the lives of His followers. Although members of the Hearing community can’t share the gospel in the language of their Deaf neighbors’ hearts without learning to sign, they can demonstrate the love and compassion of the God who sent His Son for them. The tips below can help you relate to a Deaf person in a way that’s respectful and considerate, allowing you to be a reflection of Jesus and represent Him well.
Let them take the lead.
Your Deaf neighbor likely navigates communication with the Hearing community on a regular basis, and knows what works for them. Follow their lead, seeking to do what’s comfortable for them. If you’re not sure what’s helpful and what’s a hindrance, don’t be afraid to ask!
If you know your neighbor prefers to communicate with you through writing, be prepared! Carry a pen and paper or a tablet on which they can type, rather than expecting them to have writing implements on hand. Other forms of electronic communication such as texting, Facebook messaging, emailing or simply typing text on your cell phone and passing it back and forth can also be helpful tools in connecting with someone who prefers to communicate with the Hearing through writing.
Make eye contact.
Eye contact is a foundation for effective communication, and it’s often especially important in Deaf communities. Since the Deaf communicate visually, breaking eye contact during a conversation with a Deaf person is like covering your ears while speaking with a hearing person. Be sure to look your neighbor in the eye.
Position yourself directly in front of the person and make sure they’re looking at you before you begin to communicate. (If you need to get their attention, try a simple tap on the shoulder.) If it’s within your control, make sure there’s adequate lighting.
If you’re interacting with someone who reads lips, speak at a normal pace and volume and don’t over-enunciate—all of which can make it harder for your friend to determine what you’re saying. Be sure to keep your hands and any objects away from your mouth, and don’t eat, drink or chew gum while you’re speaking. Keep in mind that only about 30 percent of speech can be read on the lips and be prepared to use other means of communication if the Deaf person requests it—remember, let them take the lead!
Many times, it can take a while to figure out the best means of communication, and even longer for it to feel comfortable. Be patient! Taking the time to determine how the two of you can have an effective conversation is a way to demonstrate that your Deaf neighbor—and what he or she wants to communicate—is important to you.
If you’re having trouble getting your point across or don’t understand what your neighbor is trying to get across after several tries, don’t brush them off! Comments like “don’t worry about it” or “It wasn’t important” may be well-intentioned, but they convey that communicating with your friend isn’t worth the effort, and are considered a major insult.
Be a friend.
Building a friendship with a Deaf person often isn’t that different than getting to know a Hearing person. Look for common interests and opportunities to be kind. Invite them to join you at a football game, share a batch of cookies or help them rake leaves. Remember them at Christmas and other holidays. Ask God to give you opportunities to be a friend and to make Himself visible through you.
Reflecting Jesus in your interactions with a Deaf neighbor may require a little extra thought and effort. But, through taking the time to communicate with consideration and respect, you can represent your Savior in a way that draws others to Him.
How can I get involved?
- Pray that believers will reflect Jesus to the Deaf in their neighborhoods.
- Ask God to raise up workers with a passion to reach the Deaf and the ability to enter these least-reached communities.
- Pray for open doors for ministry in Deaf communities.
Email us at [email protected] to start the conversation about how God could use you for His glory in a Deaf community.
Your gift to the Deaf Initiative will help us identify and train new workers to serve among the Deaf and help us launch this new outreach to these hidden least-reached people.