Teaching the deaf in the Deaf Faith Fellowship requires hard work. It is cross-cultural communications. The deaf is a sub-culture. This was what I found out when the pastoral team decided that we need to help the deaf pastor in teaching and helping the deaf with evangelism, prayer and emotional health.
I took the lead with a Sunday sermon on evangelism followed by an afternoon workshop after lunch. We were preparing them for the Celebration of Hope. Sounds simple right? Far from it.
We decided to subject ourselves to the scrutiny and input of the deaf pastor Barnabas and his part-time admin helper Mui Keng. I ran through the sermon and seminar with them and from their input and advice, I had to make quite a number of changes in content, presentation and methodology. I had to simplify the workshop and I had to add more powerpoint slides with pertinent pictures. I had to plan some role acting and drama into the sermon and workshop.
As there were 40 of them and not sufficient interpreters, I went through all the material with the cell leaders and assistants the Sunday before, so that they could readily help the members do the workshop exercises.
I must say I quite enjoyed doing this double sessions and the additional meeting to prepare the cell leaders. This has been enriching and satisfying for me, and I do hope it was for them too.
During their worship I found myself quite charmed by the beauty of Sign Language and learnt quite a few signs like “Hallelujah”, “Jesus”, “Lord”, “overcome”, “save”. During the sermon I had Hui Bong to interpret my sermon and during the workshop it was Mui Keng. I observed that you need patience and love to work with the deaf, and these two had it in abundance. May God bless them.
We were in Boston and had gone on a Freedom Trail walking tour. Boston has a rich and significant history. Momentous events took place there and some of the buildings and graves testify to the fundamental way America has been shaped by those events. I loved the tour and would recommend it to anyone.
We then wanted to have fantastic hot chocolate at a popular café near the park where the Freedom trail ended. On the way to the café, I spotted a statue in front of a huge church building. I went nearer to look and saw an interesting thing.
Rt Rev Phillips Brooks
It was a sculpture put up in memory of Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, the famous preacher whose lectures on preaching I had read when I was in seminary. Phillip Brooks gave the “Lyman Beecher Lectureship on Preaching” at the Divinity School of Yale College. The lectures now seem outdated but he had said some great, classic things about preaching. One of his often quoted sayings was his definition of preaching: “Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.”
After tea, we went to take pictures in front of the sculpture. The sculpture was of Phillip Brooks preaching with his hands stretched out to make a point. There is a strange hooded figure behind him, with his hand on Phillip’s shoulder. Clearly the sculptor meant to indicate how Jesus anointed the preaching of Brooks, and how his effectiveness as a preacher depended on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Then we went inside the church to have a look. However, we needed to pay to go in and walk among the pews, the volunteers from church had told us. So I said, Forget it. Ping, my daughter in law, told the volunteers that I was a pastor and had read his lectures in seminary when I was young, and would love to be able to go in. That must have moved them to allow us to go in for free. Thus, we sat there inside the church, among the pews, and in silence I prayed for a fresh anointing and that I would give my whole heart to preaching.
That night I searched for a free download of Brook’s lectures on preaching and downloaded it. The next few days, I would open those pages and read them on my smartphone. I have gone back now to these lectures, but on my iPad so that I could highlight striking sentences and thoughts. God willing I will post these sayings of Brooks once I have finished reading the lectures.
So what is it like to preach to the deaf congregation?
This year, I made myself available to preach in the other congregations’ services. So I was given a date to preach in the deaf church. I would have a sign language interpreter. So I got the sermon on prayer ready and sent it to her so she could familiarise herself with the vocabulary. Actually, Mui Kheng was so good it was not necessary.
I found this out because at the last moment (on Saturday) I felt I needed to change the sermon and quickly sent her the new script. However she did not receive it but it did not affect her interpretation at all. She was that good.
The deaf worship is unlike what anyone would imagine. Its not silent worship. Its almost an energetic dance with hand actions and loud drum rhythms. It awakens you. It shakes you up. You are amazed and puzzled: if they cannot hear why such loud drumbeats. I found out they can feel the vibrations and rhythm. Hmmm.
I preached about how Jesus cast out evil spirits from a man in the synagogue and how he came to heal and deliver people under attack from evil spirits. After the message, I read out a list of illnesses and ailments that I believed the Lord wanted to touch and heal. Many came out to the front for prayer. They were so open and hungry.
We took our time to patiently pray for each one, working with translators. I had requested Rev Mary and Ginny to be present to pray for the sick and they were gracious and eager to minister to the sick with faith and compassion. We formed three prayer teams, each of us with a sign language interpreter, and it took us 45 minutes to pray for everyone.
At the end of it we felt satisfied and glad to be used of the Lord to bless the deaf congregation. Even if all were not healed and some felt only some percentage of progress, we pray the healing work will continue in their bodies, and that at least they had felt somebody cared, and God cared for them.