What would it be like to share the gospel with someone who can’t ‘hear’ the gospel? ACR talks to Darren Kirkegard about ministry among the Deaf community*.
1) How did you come to be involved in ministry with the Deaf?
Entirely God’s plan. I grew up in Brisbane and before I was 20 I had never even met a Deaf person. But then when I just started uni, God did something to my voice so that talking became extremely painful. It was so bad that eventually I had to stop talking entirely. After years of investigation and specialists I came to the conclusion that I had to learn Australian Sign Language (Auslan) if I ever wanted to communicate with others and have friendships.
So, when I was about 25 I started learning Auslan, and eventually got involved with the Deaf community. That led me to a Deaf church and an opportunity to serve. Eventually I moved to Sydney to follow my now wife and did an MTS apprenticeship. During that apprenticeship I started a new Deaf ministry in Western Sydney which we continue to this day. Meanwhile I’ve also completed the Advanced Diploma of Bible and Ministry at Moore Theological College.
2) What does your ministry involve?
It has changed vastly over the years, and will continue to change to suit the needs of our Deaf members. We started by interpreting a regular “hearing” church service and having an Auslan bible study group mid-week.
Over the years it became apparent that interpreting a hearing service didn’t edify our Deaf members at all. This was due to the difficulty of understanding and also the natural exclusion of being surrounded by people you can’t communicate with. This was compounded by my health and my wife’s health taking a sudden down turn.
So now we focus on the weekly bible study and one to one growth. This ensures inclusion and understanding. I’ve also started producing and releasing videos of bible stories and Auslan translations of sections of the book of Mark to reach and support the Deaf community more broadly.
3) In what ways have you seen God at work through this ministry?
It has been such a joy to see some of our Deaf members really grow in their knowledge of the Bible and the understanding of God’s salvation plan. While this seems so obvious for ministry, it becomes a hundred times more complicated when factoring in the difficulty many Deaf members have with written English.
4) What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities of your ministry?
By far the greatest challenge is the English barrier. It’s worth saying that Auslan is not ‘signed English’. It is a completely different language to English with different grammar and no written form.
Most Deaf I meet are born deaf, they never get a chance to hear English. While this, of course, means it is difficult for them to speak English, it also makes it difficult for them to learn how to read it.
Since over 90% of Deaf are born to hearing parents, naturally their parents want the kids to learn to read and even speak English. But it is like trying to learn Chinese by only reading written Chinese, there is only so much you can pick up. Often, the result is precious years of Auslan language acquisition are missed and they face a life long struggle with a language foreign to them.
There is still no full Auslan translation of the bible. So, when we come to God’s written word in English, every time we read it becomes a translation lesson and an English lesson. This really hinders how much of the Word we can study at any given time.
The second big challenge is the continual throat pain I experience. Unfortunately, just not speaking isn’t enough to stop it and most social situations are horribly painful for me. The pain has fluctuated greatly over the years so I’m not sure what God has in store in the future. I suspect this is his way of forcing (helping) me to trust him.
5) In what ways has God enabled you to persevere in this ministry in the last year?
Through so much pain and difficulty what keeps me going is the importance of the message – the amazing joy that our God would love us enough to give up his most valued treasure: his son to save us from his own justified and right anger. There is nothing more important that we could work towards on this earth. I’m still learning every day what it means to truly trust God in everything.
6) How can we be supporting the gospel growing among our Deaf communities?
Above all prayer. Pray that God would have mercy on the Deaf community and save them. Pray Deaf would cry out to Jesus and be saved. Pray the English barrier would not stop Deaf learning about Jesus.
And pray for the workers in Deaf ministry. Many are tired and finding it difficult to go on. This is God’s field and God’s children so he will send the workers.
* Deaf (Capital D) means a member of the Deaf community,
deaf (little d) is the inability to hear. So a person can be deaf but not Deaf
(eg an elderly person going deaf). This article concerns ministry with those in
the Deaf community.