For Paul Young*, being Deaf and holding a Master of Divinity degree was not enough to effectively minister to Deaf communities.
For eight years, Young struggled to teach the Bible in two Deaf ministries in Duncan and Lawton, Okla., but “nothing worked.”
Young and five others graduated in August from a pilot program for a Certificate in Theological Education for the Deaf, a program Young believes will allow him to minister to the Deaf in their heart language.
The program is a partnership between Union University, the International Mission Board, Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood Baptist Deaf Church and the Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf.
Courses are taught by Union adjuncts in American Sign Language at Brentwood’s Deaf Theological Center, which is south of Nashville. Union faculty provide academic oversight.
“We are uniquely meeting a unique situation, that the evangelical Deaf community in the U.S. has not had anyone to meet the need like this before,” said Hayward Armstrong, professor of missions and director of online programs at Union. “It’s a really unique opportunity. It’s a great missions opportunity.”
Not only are classes taught in ASL, but they also use narrative methodologies to teach theology, Armstrong said.
Young said that after working with Deaf communities in East Asia he learned the Deaf are classified as an oral people group, meaning they have no written language of their own and communicate primarily by non-literary means.
“Everything I had learned in seminary was based on the worldview of hearing American Christians communicating in English through literary means,” Young said. “…I realized that it was not enough for me to be Deaf when it came to teaching the Deaf about Jesus. I needed to relearn something I have always instinctively known, which was that Deaf people communicate best with each other by telling stories in their heart language.”
Armstrong said there is no other program like this that teaches theology in ASL using narrative teaching strategies specifically tailored to the Deaf.
“By de-emphasizing print materials and emphasizing visual learning, DTC was able to help us all recall and discuss biblical information that might easily have been overlooked had we been taught by traditional means,” Young said.
The program’s goal was to meet standards required by the IMB for all personnel to have a certain level of theological training before being deployed. Since there was no program tailored for ministry to the Deaf, the IMB approached Union.
The program is five months long with five courses, including simultaneous undergraduate and graduate levels. The courses included are Survey of the New Testament, Survey of the Old Testament, Introduction to Bible Study, Christian Doctrine and a directed study that will likely become a course in Missions and Church Planting, Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the School of Theology and Missions will meet to determine whether they should seek full approval to make it a cataloged program.
“One of the beauties of it is that as these Deaf students were taught in this way using narrative teaching strategies, they can immediately implement those same teaching strategies when they get to the field,” Armstrong said.
Young plans to do exactly that. He and his family will soon move to South Asia, which he said has about 8.5 million Deaf people and more than 100 thousand in the city where he will work.
“The community they live in is one of the most unreached communities in the world and desperately needs missionaries to tell them about Jesus,” Young said. “Please pray for us as we go and share Jesus with them in their heart language.”