‘Not a moment to spare’ in reaching Deaf, Chitwood says

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Baptist Messenger

In 2020, Deaf people numbered nearly 70 million around the world. Of those, 1,444 die every day without Christ. Most Deaf people have none of the Bible in their heart sign language.

Connie Hook practices Malagasy Sign Language with two students at a Deaf school in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Connie, an interpreter for the Deaf at an elementary school in Evans, Georgia, went to Madagascar on a trip with Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia. IMB Photo

Those numbers should concern any Christian, International Mission Board (IMB) President Paul Chitwood said. “Knowing that many Deaf around the world die lost every day, there is not a moment to spare.”

Thirty years ago, the number of Deaf people without Christ in Middle Tennessee got the attention of Betty Stirsman, a member of Brentwood Baptist Church. She went to her pastor with a list of 60,000 Deaf and hard of hearing individuals who had no place to go to church. In 1984, Stirsman began interpreting Brentwood’s worship services. By 1986, the church started a Deaf Sunday school class, and in 1995, the Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church began. And Deaf Pathway Global, a non-profit venture that offers sign language translations of Bible stories, was begun.

Deaf translators have translated Bible stories in 13 languages – including Chinese, Czech, English, Polish and Thai, among others – with more languages planned. Deaf Pathway has a goal to translate 300 Bible stories in every sign language.

“Much of what the IMB is able to do among the Deaf is the result of this work,” Chitwood said.

Vesta Sauter and her husband, Mark, lead IMB’s work among Deaf peoples. She believes this effort not only reaches the Deaf without Christ, but allows Deaf Christians to fulfill their missionary calling.

“By partnering with Deaf Pathway Global, we can accelerate work by Deaf missionaries among Deaf peoples using a process that is easily reproducible,” Sauter said. “I didn’t think I’d see this until Heaven.”

Because of the generous giving of Oklahoma Baptists through the Cooperative Program, an amazing array of ministries are supported. This unified giving encourages fellowship with other believers all over the world. Collectively, Oklahoma Baptists are advancing the Gospel together.

Deaf peoples were featured in the 2022 Missionary Prayer Guide for Oklahoma Baptists. To see more information about the work, visit oklahomabaptists.org/cp