Three times in the last 6 years the United States has hosted the DeafNation WorldExpo. According to the official DeafNation website, this is the, "largest event for the deaf on the planet." Basically a big, unifying convention for Deaf people around the world. Each time it has been held in Las Vegas, and this year, July 6-8, an estimated 25 thousand Deaf people from around the world showed up to meet other Deaf, learn about Deaf resources, sell Deaf products, watch Deaf shows, compete for Miss/Mr Deaf Universe, and meet famous Deaf people, among other activities.
Silent Word Ministries, International, (SWMI) a missions board in Trenton, GA dedicated to assisting missionaries to the Deaf around the world, rented booth space at the huge event for an entirely different reason: to reach Deaf souls with the Gospel. SWMI brought a group of 39 people (including myself) to man two booths/tables and hand out literature, distribute DVDs of the Gospel, and engage Deaf people one-on-one in their heart language: sign language. Twelve people in our group were Deaf or Hard-of-hearing, two members of the trip are missionaries to the Deaf in Mexico, (they were fluent in Mexican Sign Language), while the rest of us were at various levels of ASL (American Sign Language) proficiency. (Above Picture: SWMI group, plus Joel Barrish, [front, center] the Deaf man who organizes DeafNation WorldExpo. I'm in the back row, second from R)
Due to the huge influx of international and American Deaf to the City, I often caught myself wondering where my passport was. This had the feel of a different country, where the first language was sign language. Though sign language isn't universal, most of the attendees knew at least a small amount of ASL, or had become proficient in gestures! (Video: a quick walk through a part of the expo.)
As we distributed Gospel DVDs and spoke with people about how they could know for sure (according to the Bible) they were going to Heaven, many people asked us immediately if we were JWs (Jehovah's Witnesses), as the JW influence has reached world-wide Deaf communities. When I said I wasn't, they looked relieved, and thanked me for the material. Many Deaf expressed frustration that they had been told so many conflicting messages by so many different religions that they didn't know what to believe. I encouraged them not to give up. There is a God, and He has given us truth... we must seek it out! (Picture: Me, discussing religion on the sidewalk with 3 Deaf men from England.)
Some highlights of the trip for me personally, were:
Sharing the Gospel personally with 3 different Deaf, Muslim men on two different occasions. (Picture: These two Deaf Muslims thanked me for our conversation, and one hugged me afterwards!)
Sharing the Gospel with Deaf people from Mexico (who live in CA). Picture: The Deaf wife and her hearing husband both received Christ!
Meeting other Deaf pastors and Christians fervently sharing the Gospel with Deaf and hearing alike. (Pic: Deaf man, Daniel, shares the Gospel with a Deaf couple.)
Learning how to communicate the Gospel with gestures rather than actual sign language.
Meeting several Deaf Christians from Honduras! (Picture: Teo, a Deaf Christian from Honduras.)
Thank you for praying for our safety and God's blessings upon the trip. In all, we saw 98 people (mostly Deaf) choose to trust Christ as their Savior. Additionally, this trip gave me a broader vision for the Deaf community as a whole, and helped me understand their culture just a little bit more. God is so good!