This Friday night, I was invited to join the Deaf from my new church for an evening of food, fun, and fellowship. I have been interested in American Sign Language and Deaf culture for many years, but have never had a chance to get involved in a Deaf community. So I jumped at the opportunity! Although I quickly realized that a year of self-study and one semester in college is not enough to make me anywhere near fluent in ASL, I was welcomed warmly by both deaf and hearing.
The gathering consisted of Deaf people and their families, who ethnically were primarily Hispanic, Caucasian, or Asian. There were deaf adults with hearing children, deaf children with hearing parents, beginning signers, fluent interpreters, and everything in between. There were also hearing who spoke Burmese or Spanish and some who spoke a multiplicity of languages. The mix of cultures was refreshing to this third-culture kid (plus the array of ethnic foods at the potluck was exquisite!) and I felt right at home.
Outside of this new circle of Deaf acquaintances, I’ve met several wonderful people at work and church that I’m eager to know better. Everyone here has been very welcoming and inclusive, and I definitely feel a part of things. But there’s something about being with a group of people who are all, in some way or another, living in two more cultures that brings an instant sense of connection. Having grown up as an American in Cambodia, then teaching in China for a year after college, some things about the event were so familiar: speaking through an interpreter, using facial expressions and gestures to communicate when words or signs are unknown, and smaller personal “bubbles” with more physical contact.
There were also some experiences that we new to me and unique to the Deaf world. Deaf gatherings are both quieter and louder than hearing parties–full conversations are carried on with just hands and face, but when it’s time to gather for games or a devotional, incidental noise doesn’t bother deaf people, so kids scream, chairs scrape, people cough and call out at normal volume. Finding out if someone is deaf is just a matter of saying, “Hey!” I looked up, and the man across the table said, “You can hear me.” Getting someone’s attention means tapping them, waving your hand in front their face, or banging the table in front of them, and can easily become a joint effort if the person doesn’t notice right away. When someone prays for the food, he doesn’t have to raise his voice, but he does have to adjust his position to make sure everyone can see him. And, once it gets dark, it gets harder to listen and make sure everyone can see the speaker. But on the plus side, two Sunday School classes can be held in the same room as long as the chairs are facing different directions.
The variety of cultures and languages in our world excites me, and I can’t wait to learn more about the Deaf and hopefully become more involved in their community. But the thing I always take away from an event like this is the following thought: One day, people from every ethnicity, nation, and language will be gathered all together, lifting up voices and hands in song before the throne of the One Who lives forever and ever, worshiping the Lamb Who was killed for each of our sins.
From our different backgrounds, God is bringing His worldwide church together as “a holy nation, His own special people, that [we] may proclaim the praises of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)