The Deaf are a distinct cultural-linguistic people group. If you haven't been exposed to this concept before, it may take you some time to get used to it. This will be the biggest conceptual barrier you face as you seek to understand the Deaf community and effective outreach within it. If you can step out of your hearing view of the world for a moment and see Deaf people as a cultural-linguistic group, then all that we do will begin to make sense. If you can't, and you continue to see deafness as simply a physical disability, then you probably won't understand or agree with much of what we say or do.
Note: Not every person with any amount of hearing loss is part of the Deaf community defined here. These are generally people who were born Deaf or became Deaf early in life.
Historically and internationally, Deaf people live and interact as a distinct people group. They have their own customs, habits, thought patterns, language, common experiences, and values that identify them as a unique cultural group. They do not consider themselves handicapped or disabled; rather, they consider themselves a minority group within the context of their own home country.
Values of Friendship and Family
Deaf people often identify their Deaf school classmates as a "family" much closer than their biological hearing family. Given the choice, the large majority of Deaf people worldwide choose to marry another Deaf person. Most Deaf people would even feel closer to a Deaf person from another country than to any hearing person from their own country. Given the choice of spending an afternoon with a group of Deaf people or a group of hearing people, a Deaf person would almost always choose the Deaf group. Because of language, communication, and culture, Deaf people highly value spending time with other Deaf people. Time with a group of hearing people is usually described as "boring," "frustrating," "lonely," or simply a "waste of time." When communication isn't possible, "spending time together" simply loses its appeal.
Style of Learning and Communicating
Deaf people worldwide value the opportunity to learn in a Deaf context, from Deaf teachers and with other Deaf students. DOOR has done extensive research on the learning style of the Deaf. As the Israelites passed on stories, songs and poetry with incredible accuracy, from generation to generation, so the Deaf also learn, grow, and lead best when taught in Sign Language, by Deaf teachers using chronological stories, dramas and songs. Deaf people also thrive on interaction with other Deaf people as a means of processing and internalizing information.
Deaf people in every country have a rich, complete language… the Sign Language of their country. It is a complex language with a three-dimensional grammar and structure which Sign Languages share around the world. It does not follow the order or thought process of the spoken and written language of the hearing people in their country. Sign Languages excel in describing both literal and figurative spatial relationships. Deaf people are able to discuss politics, doctrine, emotions, theories, motivations, and philosophies with other Deaf people in Sign Language in every country. Deaf people rarely learn the written/spoken language of their country fluently. It remains, at best, a second language for them, while Sign Language is their heart language. Deaf people are also able to learn another country's Sign Language quickly, because of the shared grammar and visual basis of the language. What an incredible advantage for Deaf church planting worldwide!
Isolation vs. Integration
Deaf and hearing people have very different definitions of these two key words, and these definitions profoundly impact their approaches to Deaf ministry. Hearing people feel that if Deaf people meet or socialize separately from hearing people, they are quite isolated from the "world." The hearing view is that "integration" with hearing people will improve the lives of Deaf people, give them more information, more relationships, and more maturity.
Deaf people, however, have a completely opposite view. Deaf people view being a minority among a group of many hearing people as "isolation." They cannot communicate with the majority of people around them, they are left out of conversations, and they often don't understand information as presented, even when interpreted into Sign Language. "Integration" to a Deaf person means being surrounded by other Deaf people. That is where the Deaf person experiences full communication, relationships, belonging, and extensive information sharing. That is where a Deaf person learns and grows and develops maturity.
The implications for Deaf church planting are obvious. If we hearing people maintain our status as learners in this "foreign" culture of the Deaf, we will listen to them and understand that the best environment in which they will learn, grow, serve, and lead is in a separate Deaf church.