USA (MNN) — Last month, Deaf Bible Society hosted a one-of-a-kind conference called Together: Inspiring Our Generation. Together was all about gathering Deaf millennial Christians for a time of worship and fellowship with one another. The conference took place from October 21-22 in Arlington, Texas.
Jason Suhr with Deaf Bible shares, “We wanted to create an event where young people are able to come together and see this and say, ‘Hey, I’m like you. I have a similar understanding — not with an older generation, and not with a younger generation.’ We were purposefully targeting this group [to] have this interaction — you know, what challenges they’re currently facing, what life questions they may have.”
(Image capture courtesy of Deaf Bible Society)
Together was a uniquely Deaf-centric conference. Everything was organized around the Deaf Christian experience and community.
“In our ministries, we have videos that use American Sign Language, or ASL, with verses. That’s one thing that we do. We are able to hear God’s Word, if you will, through our heart and our native language. And through our heart language, that is what we’re looking at in making a Deaf-centric approach.”
For example, although some Christian conferences are Deaf accessible, that doesn’t always translate well in moments that are tailored towards a hearing audience.
“With a lot of hearing audiences, you’ve got famous singers that are producing great lyrics and beautiful songs. The problem is when you’re copying that song word-for-word from English to American Sign Language, it’s almost robotic in some sense. You’re just throwing out these words and it’s missing the bigger piece. You’re signing these words. But where is that spirit? Where is that excitement? Where is that opportunity for us to open ourselves up and express how we want to worship God?”
The time of worship at Together was held in American Sign Language and encouraged Deaf young men and women to really engage with praising God in their heart language.
(Photo courtesy of Bert Heymans under Creative Commons via Flickr: https://goo.gl/M8qmhU)
“So that ASL song base where we’re signing allows room for our people to look at each other and say, ‘Oh, you know what? Wow, you’re signing this a little differently than me. I’m expressing this, my facial expressions are different than yours, my inflection is different. I can actually worship the Lord with my ASL.’”
Suhr also adds, “The other thing we’re doing is the idea of poetry. This is actually related and correlated back with the result of inspiring our generation. We’re developing several different pieces that match that and help Deaf people understand and say, ‘Wow, that was really clever. That was a really good way to express and make a connection using our language.’”
In addition to ASL worship and poetry, Together also featured sessions and break-out groups where attendees could gather and ask questions.
“They were very deep level questions — you know, spiritual questions, God-related questions, community questions, how it applies to them. There was a lot of communication that was occurring and that caused me to look back and see, wow, they are really hungry. This group is hungry for that connection, for the understanding and a deeper level of understanding of what the Scriptures mean and [ask] where is God in our community? Where can I find God in our language? In our identities?”
Suhr says the idea for a conference like this all started when Deaf Bible Society noticed a need to engage the Deaf millennial generation. “We’ve been doing quite a bit of demographics and research and surveys and questionnaires and asking the community at large, ‘What is lacking?’ What we’re seeing here with the millennial generation, it’s causing us to really look at this and say, ‘How do we bring those specific people together for the Kingdom?’”
(Photo by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash)
These questions birthed the idea of a conference — a conference just for young Deaf believers to gather together in fellowship and worship.
In the aftermath of Together, Deaf Bible has received very positive feedback. “We had a survey that was a post-survey that was done. We had a lot of information, a lot of concrete constructive criticism, how we could improve — of course, we can see and we agree with how we could improve. But mostly, all these comments were a thankful comment. They were thanking us for hosting something like this for this demographic and age group.”
After the event, people were asking if there would be another conference and what else they could do to get involved. “That was really touching to my heart, this passion, this motivation to do something,” As for another conference in the future, Suhr says, “Yes, we want to. We’re planning on expanding actually, but we’re not sure exactly how exactly we’re going to expand to more of a national level. We’re trying to take this one step at a time.”
As Deaf Bible looks into possibly hosting another conference, Suhr asks for “continued prayers in seeing what the responses are to really help and guide us [to] have a better insight on how we can better serve this group in the future.”
Pray for the spiritual growth of young Deaf believers, and that God would use their lives and faithful witness to inspire others to seek him.