ASL

Seeing the Deaf Community

May 20, 2021
Julie Damdar

Have you ever considered that reconciliation begins with simply seeing someone? 

Browncroft is a church committed to seeing and serving unreached people — a missions outreach term for a group with a distinct culture, language, or social class that lacks a significant evangelical Christian presence. Our church sending teams to participate in our Wolof partnership in Senegal and other missions around the world are all part of this commitment. 

But did you know there is an unreached people group right here in Rochester?  It’s not necessary to get on a plane.  You will see members of this group at your local Starbucks. You’ll sit next to them at a restaurant. Or you may stand next to them in line at Wegmans.  

Rochester is home to the largest Deaf population per capita in the United States.  The reason for this phenomenon can be found just miles from Browncroft’s campus.  The National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) brings more than 1,100 Deaf students from around the world every year to our city. 

Rochester is home to the largest Deaf population per capita in the United States.

Now imagine this scenario for a moment.  More than 90 percent of Deaf people are born to hearing parents, meaning that in their families there is an instant language barrier.  Many of these students grow up never knowing or meeting other Deaf people like them.  Perhaps they are the only Deaf person in their school or even in their town. 

Many Deaf people are not exposed to sign language at a young age, but spend their formative years piecing together what they can, fighting with frustration and isolation.  Then they arrive at NTID and meet 1,100 students… just… like…. them.  Individuals who understand their experience and their frustrations. A group within which communication channels come alive through American Sign Language (ASL).  Many of these students choose to stay in Rochester after they graduate because the community and opportunities Rochester offers are too precious to leave. 

When I moved to Rochester in 2002, I walked into my dorm room to find that my roommate was Deaf.  She had no interest in attending church — a place in which many in her community feel uncomfortable and, sadly, even unwelcome. But as I began the search for a church family, I knew I needed one that would be accessible to her should the day ever come when she wanted to join me. 

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

This is why I am committed to Browncroft’s ASL ministry on Sunday mornings and beyond. Our church is strategically positioned smack in the middle of this unreached people’s hub.  This is a population that will not be hearing the Gospel from an online sermon or a recently posted podcast.  No plane ride is required to meet them.  They are in our community, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and, yes, even our church — perhaps sitting right next to us.  

But the question is, do we see them?  

And once we do, what steps do we take to acknowledge and affirm them as people made in the image of God?  Not to help them, but to know them, to learn from them, and to be in community with them. 

Not everyone is going to be fluent in American Sign Language, but anyone can pick up a pen and paper, use a phone translation app, or share a smile and a handshake.  It requires some courage, the vulnerability to make mistakes, and some creativity to cross the language barrier.

But it starts with seeing. 

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About The Author

Julie Damdar

Julie is a professional sign language interpreter who serves with Browncroft’s ASL ministry that provides Sunday morning interpretation services on site and online. She and her husband, Sherwin, have been active at Browncroft since their days studying at Rochester Institute of Technology. Their family has a heart for outreach to the Deaf community and international students, as well as numerous other ministries at Browncroft.

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