Deaf called upon to reach South Asia
SOUTH ASIA (BP) –- In a typical South Asian city -– swarming with people, rickshaws, crumbling sidewalks and rickety crossover bridges full of tangled power lines -- it can be easy for a person to get lost in the crowd.
In such a bustling city, International Mission Board missionaries Cody and Carla Ridge* found it difficult to meet the people group they hope to reach -- the Deaf. Unless they happen to see someone signing, they are often unable to pick a Deaf person out from the huge crowds.
"It's overwhelming at times," Carla said. "And I'm thinking -– it's just the two of us."
Their desire to see Deaf people come to Christ still motivates them to push forward. "The Deaf are really the last ones to hear," Carla said as she glanced down sadly. "But we know that God is not limited."
When the couple first reached South Asia, Cody and Carla had different focuses -– Carla on the Deaf and Cody on the hearing. Then God began to change Cody's heart. "We came to Asia ready to do whatever God wanted," he said. "God convicted me to do whatever it takes to reach the Deaf."
"We began to pray that God would show us where the Deaf were -– it was a matter of prayer," Cody said.
Though they didn't have an easy start, eventually the couple met one Deaf man at a photo shop, and the doors to the Deaf community swung wide open. The opportunity led them to invite Deaf individuals into their home and disciple them through sharing Bible stories with sign language.
Getting out of the way
Cody and Carla's ministry among the Deaf began to grow. After learning Bible stories from Carla, many of their new friends took the lessons back to their homes, villages and even city-wide Deaf meetings and shared them with other Deaf.
Though Cody and Carla can hear, they learned the tools needed to communicate sign language in their new culture. Though they can communicate effectively, they occasionally have to pause to think about what sign should come next in their conversations.
Yet, the couple acknowledges that the Deaf being able to communicate with other Deaf has a far greater impact than through someone who is able to hear. When a Deaf person meets another Deaf person, they instantly fall into conversation, with expressive eyes, animated faces and the common root signs that most Deaf are familiar with. Deaf know how other Deaf understand and relate to the world.
"Deaf have a much more open door," Carla said. "They are able to share a story the first time they meet someone."
The couple witnessed this through Deaf volunteers from the U.S. who came and shared the Bible through signing stories. "For the first time [during a sermon] we saw Deaf women get up and do the drama," Cody said as his voice cracked with emotion and tears rolled down his cheeks. "We began to see women talk about Jesus. They do understand! They want to know more!"
Cody and Carla witnessed a Deaf pastor share the Gospel with a Deaf man. This confirmed for them that the Deaf can connect faster in their heart language. "As soon as they met, they began to talk!" Cody said. "You can't do that with spoken languages."
The couple gained more insight into their ministry when Deaf Hands On student Matthew Davis* came to join them for six months. Hands On provides semester-long mission opportunities for college students and allows young adults to serve Christ with a missionary mentor.
After only two months, Davis met weekly with Deaf believers to teach them the Bible through signing stories. He was also called upon to share the message at church. "I could see that the Deaf could really grasp and understand [Davis' teaching]," Cody said. "It began to move from their heads to their hearts as they got up to retell the story."
Entrusting to faithful men
Davis significantly enhanced Cody and Carla's ministry in the six months he worked with them. He spent much of his time with Ani Bi* and Pola Garo,* two young Deaf men whom Cody and Carla had been teaching.
Bi and Garo grew in their faith as Davis taught them the Bible. They soon began to share the stories with their Deaf friends, which included Muslims.
Cody and Carla hope that Bi and Garo will begin Bible storying groups in their areas that will multiply to other parts of the city. "Our goal is to teach national Deaf who will teach other national Deaf," Carla said.
But they still have a long way to go.
Ripe fields, few workers
Since Davis' term ended, Cody and Carla continue to seek effective ways to reach the Deaf of their city. They agreed that Davis helped change their outlook a bit.
"Matthew being here confirmed what we knew about Deaf culture," Cody said.
"He showed me how valuable Deaf people coming is to our work," Carla added.
Though the couple said there are few Deaf believers working to spread the Gospel, the number of Deaf yet to believe in Christ is overwhelming.
In a predominately Muslim country, more Deaf workers are needed to share the truth about Jesus. Carla explained, "We are in a country where Jesus is known but he is known a different way."
She said she hopes to see more Deaf students come to reach the young Deaf people of their city. "Whatever skills you have, just bring them!" she said. "We are seeking those [who are] called out to go and reach the Deaf."
Tears emerged again in Cody's eyes when asked about his job. "What better life than to get to tell people about Jesus," he said with a smile.
"There are so many Deaf but no workers," he added. "Pray and ask God 'Would you want me to go?'"
*Name changed. Harper McKay is a writer for AsiaStories living in Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).