Sharing the Son with the Deaf Community


Araya Williams

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An estimated 1-2 percent of Deaf people claim to be followers of Jesus, making them one of the most unreached minorities in our country. Unreached does not have to mean left out or forgotten. Have you ever felt out left out, forgotten, or teased? I was teased and felt left out in my early school years. When I changed schools and noticed Deaf kids who were excluded and teased, I vowed to be someone who would help others feel noticed, valued, and loved. I became a bridge between the Deaf kids and the hearing kids when I learned and developed a love for American Sign Language (ASL) by watching interpreters and interacting with Deaf kids. I constantly practiced my signing: racing others to sign the ABCs, finger-spelling words discretely, and signing songs alone in my room.

Nine years later, I started my senior year with only basic conversational ASL, until I developed a friendship with a Deaf freshman girl on my Varsity soccer team and her Deaf friends. They sat alone in the lunchroom everyday. Others avoided them and even teased them, while my desire to include them and demonstrate Jesus’ love led me to invite these girls to a weekend camp. I served as their interpreter, and something struck a chord: I knew I wanted to share Jesus with this culture.

Proximity to the Deaf community became a priority in my college search. For the next four years, I was heavily invested at a school for the Deaf where I coached, mentored, tutored, and began a ministry to teenagers. I was constantly aware of how ill-equipped I was when I walked onto that campus. I sometimes struggled to follow conversations but felt compelled to walk through life with these students. I wanted them to know how Jesus sees them and loves them when it may feel like no one else does.

In college, I spent a semester at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a university for the Deaf. I was the minority, the one who couldn’t keep up with conversation — a hearing person in a sea of Deaf people. I went to bed exhausted every night after processing visual language all day.

Eventually, after ten years of direct Deaf ministry, I entered a season as a stay-at-home mom and started to interpret at church. There are countless churches and ministries doing amazing ministry, but Deaf people cannot attend most of these because there are not qualified and trained interpreters to convey the message in ASL (the first language of Deaf people).

Soon thereafter, in a time of huge transition, I discovered what I ultimately wanted to be doing with my life. For over two years, my husband and I were praying and preparing for transition, but we didn’t know what, when, where, or how this change would come. We expected to move for a ministry job for my husband, but the Lord had something else in store: me working full time while my husband stayed home with our kids. After much discernment and through many different means, we landed in Nashville, TN, 2,000 miles from the only home both of us had ever known.

Just working was not enough for me. I needed purpose, and interpreting events about Jesus brought me the most life. I made a list of ministries — including IF:Gathering — that have significantly impacted me and started making phone calls to advocate that their work be accessible to Deaf people. After one phone call with the IF team, they were in, so we got to work right away to provide a livestreaming option in American Sign Language for IF:Gathering 2016.

Since it was our first year, I expected the numbers to be small, so I wept when they estimated 3,000-5,000 watched the ASL version!

I realized we needed an army of interpreters across the country who deeply desire the message of Jesus to reach the Deaf community. This was the beginning of Sonshine Interpreting, an ASL interpreting agency that contracts excellent interpreters who share the same vision.

We expect a growing following in the Deaf community for IF:Gathering 2017, which means there is an even greater opportunity to reach the unreached. If you’re hosting an IF:Local, would you consider welcoming the Deaf women in your city? I’d love for you to open your doors to every woman and to say, “You are noticed, you are loved, and you are welcome here!”

There are three ways you can get involved in IF:Gathering:

– Want to help make ASL possible for IF:Gathering 2017? Give to the vision: ifgathering.com/give
– Want to host or attend a local event to watch the IF:Gathering livestream? Register: register.ifgathering.com/if-local
– Want to host an IF:Local event that is ASL friendly? Read Araya’s tips here: ifgathering.tumblr.com
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