The blog post below was originally shared under the title, “What is BEST for the Deaf Child?”. I have decided to include it, in its updated form, to become Part 8 in the series, “So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child?”
In an effort to inform and equip adoption agencies, especially faith-based ones, as they seek to provide the best possible family environment for the raising of deaf children and to expand their understanding of the Biblical Worldview concerning the Deaf Peoples around the world, I have decided to write this post.
Having numerous dDeaf family members (d meaning a form of deafness and D meaning a member of the Deaf Community) I often thought my husband, Charles, and I would end up giving birth to and being given the responsibility of raising a deaf child. However, Rachel and Joseph are both hearing and we never had to face that all-encompassing question, “What is best for our deaf child?”
Thirteen years ago when God led me to return to school in the fall of 2000 at the age of 41–2 yr. Interpreter Training Program degree and then 4-yr. degree in ASL Studies,–the answer to the question, “What is best for the deaf child?” became a personal quest of mine. At that time, I did not understand why I was so obsessed with wanting to know the answer to that question, but I do now, at least in part.
I researched and researched and researched some more…I still do. I talked to numerous educational interpreters, they are on the front lines and see what deaf children are faced with day in and day out…I still do. I have also listened to many dDeaf people share their stories of frustration and pain with hearing family members who never learned sign language…and I still do. And I listen to the stories of those who experience deafness, but do not know sign language or were not exposed to it until much later in life and do not feel accepted by hearing people or by Deaf people, to this day. They do not really “fit” anywhere!
Sometimes, I feel embarrassed to admit that it took me several years to come to my conclusion. However, that uncertainty forced me to develop a strong and sure foundation for why I can boldly say, today, without reservation or hesitation, that providing the deaf child a sign language-rich environment, as their strong foundation, is by far…BEST!
In addition, over the past 14 years, I have become heavily involved with the Deaf Community. I have learned they are among one of the top three unreached people groups locally and around the world. An unreached people group is an ethnic or ethnolinguistic people in which less than 2% of their population know of and follow Christ.
Often, Deaf people remind me of this story in the Old Testament, Exodus chapters 3 & 4, where the LORD (Yahweh) is speaking to Moses from the burning bush and Moses is making excuses as to why he should not be the one to do what God has called him to do.
Then Moses said to the Lord, Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue. The Lord said to him, Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11, NASB)
Many Deaf people who do follow Christ, believe it is no accident God has allowed them to be deaf and that He clearly has a plan for each of their lives within their deafness.
This additional knowledge has led me to see more clearly, another reason, possibly even a stronger and more important one for granting the deaf child the right to be allowed to learn ASL and that is for the purpose of impacting those who are dDeaf with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We know, from much research, the ability to share the hope of Christ by others within their own people group is much more successful than when those from outside their group try to do the same. If ASL-fluent and Deaf Culture-immersed families adopt deaf children and then provide them with a sign language-rich environment there will be many more opportunities for God to lead some of those children to share their beliefs with other Deaf people as they become adults. I already know stories of adopted deaf children who feel called to return to their homelands to share the gospel with the Deaf people there. Their sign language fluent hearing adoptive family members will also have an influence on the Deaf Community and vice versa. However, if families never give their deaf children the opportunity to learn sign language or interact with other Deaf people, the possibility of them ever influencing the lives of Deaf people for Christ is minimal to none, at best.
Maybe more of us hearing people should follow Paul’s example, learn sign language and become immersed in the Deaf Community:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. ~1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Some challenging questions for us to ponder:
For the sake of the gospel, should Christian hearing parents of deaf children learn ASL? To date, in the US, 90+% of hearing biological parents never learn to sign with their deaf children.
For the sake of the gospel, should Christian adoptive parents provide a sign-language rich environment for their deaf children?
And, finally, should any and all hearing people learn ASL and be immersed in Deaf Culture, to possibly ‘win the Deaf’ and somehow ‘save some’?
Before I am misunderstood, let me go ahead and say clearly, I believe the BEST for the deaf child is knowing and embracing both ASL and English, as best they can. In addition, I also believe they should be given every opportunity to embrace both the hearing and Deaf cultures, as well.
Ideally, I also believe it is also BEST for all hearing people and all dDeaf people to do the same.
God has purposefully given us family members who experience deafness. This is no accident nor is it only a result of the fall of mankind or sin which we should simply accept as a part of this life. Why else would He continue allowing 95+% of deaf children to be born to and/or raised by hearing parents? And why else would He be allowing as many as 70% of our aging population of hearing family members experience debilitating deafness in their final years?
We are long overdue for asking God, specifically, what His will is concerning the dDeaf in our midst. Over the years, we, hearing and Deaf people alike, have constantly been separating these two groups of people, but God is constantly trying to ensure that the vast majority of deaf people (old and young) always have hearing family members. The family is a part of God’s design from the very beginning. When will we stop separating what God Himself has put together? What are we missing when we separate ourselves from each other?
If you are an agency or a family not focused on adoption being, solely, His work and ultimately to spread His gospel, I urge you to do some soul searching and ask God to reaffirm to you why it is you are involved with adoption and more specifically the adoption of children who experience deafness.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. ~James 1:5
So You Want to Adopt a Deaf Child? Ongoing Blogpost Series