Growing up deaf with limited language skills, a woman seeks to understand what Christ did for all people.
Rebecca Davis is a Christian. She loves her Lord. Yet, Rebecca has never heard the Word of God; she has never heard a hymn.
Rebecca was born deaf.
Struggling to understand
Rebecca and her sister were both born deaf to a hearing family. She grew up going to a school with a program for deaf children, however, she didn’t learn sign language. As a result, she struggled with truly grasping language.
Worship and church were really important to her family. But Rebecca struggled growing up in a hearing, Christian home:
I remember going to old St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Benton Harbor, Mich., looking at many painted pictures on the vaulted ceiling and stained-glass windows. It was beautiful artwork. I looked at all the details of baby angels flying with white robes, Jesus, flowers, and sky with clouds. I had no idea where we were at in the hymnal, and I couldn’t hear or follow any subject during the sermon. There was no interpreter or any sermon printout for me to read. I would wait until church ended, finding some excuse so I could get out. . . . We then transferred to a different church where everything was in brown wood and red carpet. There were no pictures anywhere. Then I started going to Sunday school, which was even worse. I had no clue what we were talking about, and I did not like to read because I could not understand it.
She knew that “if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will go to hell.” This worried her. She explains, “It was always in my mind. I kept lying to myself every day, ‘Yes, I do believe in Jesus.’ But I didn’t. I wanted to believe in him so badly, but I could not find it in my heart or find faith in God. Not a bit. Later in my life, my mom said, ‘If you believe in God a little, it’s still good.’ I was still worried because I know she didn’t know what was in my heart. I struggled. I wanted to learn, but how?”
Rebecca took catechism class with her pastor and her best friend, but she says catechism class for her was mostly memorization without a lot of explanation. She knew faith in Christ was important, but with limited language skills, she struggled to understand why Jesus had to die and what his resurrection meant for believers.
Discovering what’s needed
Things started to turn around for Rebecca once she started college. For the first time, she learned American Sign Language. “There was a lot of new things to process in my head and I was overwhelmed, but it was so good. It was like I found the new me,” she says.
“I was 22 when I watched a new movie at a theater with open captioning. It was The Passion of the Christ. I was so confused why he was so badly beaten up and the words he was saying at the Lord’s Supper, that he had to pay for our sins. I asked my mom for some clarity. That’s when it hit me, and I realized how I misunderstood everything,” recalls Rebecca. “I finally got a whole picture about why Jesus came to earth, then died on a cross to pay for our sins so we can be saved. Because we are sinners and we don’t deserve heaven, Jesus took care of it. Ah, I got it!”
She says John 3:16 is one of her favorite Bible verses because this verse’s succinct explanation of saving faith is what she felt she was missing most of her life. Now she knows that the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith means she is saved through Christ.
Living in a deaf world
Rebecca graduated college with a degree in interior design. She met her husband, who is also deaf, in college. Rebecca, now 40, and her husband have been married 17 years. Together, they have four children ages 3 to 14, who are all deaf; one has additional needs as well. Rebecca and her husband take their children to church every Sunday, just like Rebecca went with her family. She always knew it was important, but now she knows why and is making sure her children know too.
Rebecca’s priority is the needs of her children. Her time is filled with different appointments for her children—audiologist, surgeries, physical therapist, occupational therapy, speech therapist, development therapist, dentist, and school appointments.
Her oldest attends high school with a sign language interpreter. The 12-year-old goes to special needs classes in middle school, and the 9-year-old attends the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, Mo.
Meeting all her family’s needs can be challenging, but Rebecca says she finds comfort in Deuteronomy 31:6,8: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. . . . The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Rebecca is raising her children to live in both a hearing and deaf world, letting them choose what works best for them. She says she grew up “stuck” in the wrong world and is thankful that she eventually learned sign language, which opened doors for her, especially helping her understand her need for a Savior.
She says that even though her family has its challenges, they are close-knit and strong. “We can do everything, except hear.”
She implores WELS churches and members to welcome deaf people who come to church. “Don’t be afraid to approach them, even if you don’t know sign language. If they can’t read lips, you can use a smartphone to transcribe your voice to communicate. It’s very important to make anyone feel welcome and feel part of the church family,” she says.
Her family currently attends a small mission church, Christ Our Savior, Collinsville, Ill. Right away, she says, the congregation started using PowerPoint to help the family follow along with the service. The congregation also provides a sign language interpreter for worship services.
While not every congregation has access to an interpreter, Rebecca stresses that even small gestures and a welcoming attitude are meaningful. Even if someone can’t hear God’s Word, they can know Christ as their Savior.
Author: Amanda Klemp
Volume 109, Number 02
Issue: February 2022
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