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The Community of the Deaf


Jean Ellis has worked among the Austrian Deaf community for nearly thirty years. Here she explains how such communities work.


The Deaf community – is there such a thing? What do you understand when you read these words? My understanding is a group of people who are not able to communicate easily through spoken language, but who do know and understand a signed language, meeting together in one way or another.


Within such Deaf communities there are born-again believers, who either meet in churches for the Deaf or in ‘normal’ churches which accommodate their needs. In Klagenfurt the latter is the case. Most of the born-again, baptised believers have joined the Church here, but as there are not enough interpreters to translate everything into Austrian sign language, separate meetings have developed to meet their special needs.


There are weekly meetings for the Deaf believers, monthly evangelistic meetings and additional meetings for special events or training sessions for those who want to dig deeper. Many of you reading this know all about our meetings, but have you considered what it is like in other places? In Austria there are other small groups of believers meeting usually in connection with a ‘hearing’ church, but again having their own meetings and linking up with each other.


Links have also been made to Deaf in other countries, through conferences and personal visits. The group in Klagenfurt have especially taken a group in Moldova under their wing. They send financial help for special events and some of them have made visits to

encourage the believers there. With modern technology it is also possible for them to chat – signing to one another, enabling them to overcome the difference in written languages. We have had some thank-you letters translated – either from Russian into German or an English translation of their letter has been sent to me and I put it into German and sometimes sign it for the benefit of the group.


Recently I asked the Klagenfurt group about the believers in other countries. It was really sad to hear about churches disbanding or fighting with one another and some believers pretty much on their own. You may say that is not so different from the hearing world, but that world is so much bigger and there are so many more opportunities. The Deaf community is very small. We have known Deaf people who didn’t want to attend the monthly services because another Deaf person was present. Some who are not believers even expected us to keep certain Deaf from attending, just because they didn’t like them. But where should they go? The other churches offering something for the Deaf in Klagenfurt do not preach the gospel and the problem of personality conflicts would still be around, although it is easier to attend churches where one is not expected to respond to the gospel message.


Another problem confronting the majority in the Deaf community is the fact that the spoken/written language is not their first language and has usually been taught without the use of the heart language of the Deaf – in our case Austrian sign language. As we began services in 1995, it soon became clear how difficult it was for those attending to understand the Bible passages being dealt with. This led us to attempt to translate some of the Bible into Austrian sign language. When we first started we had no born-again believers in the group, but one very gifted young lady did her best to help me. Although we tried again and again to translate various portions of the Bible, we finally had to give up this dream, although those who were involved can still remember the

creation account and the books of Ruth and Jonah much better than some other Scripture portions.


Bible translation is really hard work whether one is translating into a spoken, written or signed language. Therefore I would like to ask you to pray especially for all those involved in Bible translation throughout the world. I am pleased to say that I still have contact with some who are involved in sign language translation projects and although I cannot give you the details of these projects, let me ask you to pray especially for those involved in this extremely difficult work in various European countries.


I have been informed by consultants with Wycliffe Bible Translators that such translation projects are being worked on in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the UK – others may also be involved in translation or considering starting a project, or like us, they may have tried and failed. Would you please pray for these groups, regardless of whether or not you know anything about translation, sign languages or the Deaf Community.


What else does the Deaf community need? Not only translators but also interpreters. We have the privilege of having a Deaf man able to preach at the services and he is doing his best to train up the other men. I have the privilege of still being able to help him and the other Deaf believers to understand the Scriptures, but will they be able to cope when the time comes for me to withdraw from this glorious opportunity? I do not continue with this in order to put myself in the centre of things. Christ alone can be the centre of anything we do, but I must confess to really enjoying my work for the Lord with the Deaf in our little bit of the Deaf community. It is also a privilege for me to be able to say that I belong to this community in the same way that I belong in Austria. I was born in England, but I am culturally Austrian. I can hear, but I am culturally Deaf!



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