Deaf

Missionary Spotlight Update: Doc and Dee Douglas*

You’ve probably heard the term “heart language.” It describes the mother tongue of a people group through which communication flows freely and clearly. For the Deaf in the United States, it is “heard” through the hands of American Sign Language.

Until recently, no theological education using this optimal mode of communication was available to prepare Deaf Southern Baptist believers for mission service with the International Mission Board (IMB).

Missions Field of Many Languages for California Missionary

In his missions field, California missionary Howard Burkhart is often surrounded by people whose language he can’t always understand. That one daunting fact hasn’t stopped him from founding churches among 21 different language groups for the past 3 decades.

In 1984, Burkhart signed on with the North American Mission Board, then called the Home Mission Board, as the state missionary for Deaf people. His wife, a high school teacher for Deaf students in Southern California, taught him sign language. For 16 years, Burkhart worked with hearing-impaired people, all the while learning.

“Deaf people don’t expect everyone to learn their language,” he said. “They do expect to be treated as peers and as equals.”

Further, Burkhart said, hearing-impaired individuals have just as much right to pursue God’s call in their lives as anyone else.

“It has been extremely rewarding to have helped start several Deaf churches and trained Deaf pastors and leaders,” he said. “To see them fulfill God’s calling in their life and to see the impact they have made has been rewarding and fulfilling.”

Getting “Out of the Box” to Reach the Deaf

Deaf pastor and church planter John Wyble and his wife, Denise, serve the Deaf community through 2 Deaf congregations in Virginia. They use American Sign Language to communicate God’s message of redemption.

What are some of the challenges you face in reaching the Deaf and how do you deal with those?

John: We have to overcome the walls built up through worldly lifestyles. We have found through years of ministry that building relationships is crucial. By living a righteous and compassionate example, we are ready to share the gospel when the right time comes. One example is when deaf ladies at our church host a women’s retreat on the beach. They will pay the way for unsaved friends. They were thrilled when the unsaved woman Denise sponsored became a believer.

What are some of the ways your churches serve the community?

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