A reddish-brown two-story building sits in a street in Huanggu District, Shenyang, in China’s northeastern Liaoning Province. A simple cross stands atop it. It is Shenyang Wanfang Church for the Deaf.
With a history of more than two decades, the church took root in a group fellowship of a few people. It has grown to build its own building and help other churches establish fellowships for the deaf... Many moving faith stories have come from this church.
The senior pastor, Rev. Ming Dasheng, has been committed to this special group, walking with them for over twenty years. He experienced struggles, moving stories, and even a deeper walk in his own Christian faith.
Below is his story:
Being Called to Serve the Deaf
In the beginning, I didn’t see that serving hearing-impaired persons as a special mission or do it out of love. Before I married my wife in 1998, she was working for the deaf ministry while studying at Northeast China Theological Seminary. Then she brought me into the community.
To lighten her load and because of my love for her, I joined her in this ministry. After engaging them, I didn’t dislike them. My new ministry continued.
In the first two years, I didn’t know sign language. During the worship service, I first wrote words on the blackboard and later printed them on papers. The papers were made into photographic slides. Then they were shown through a traditional slide projector while a deaf brother translated the script into sign language.
Failing to have a burden for the ministry, I was struggling with whether God had called me to this work or not and how I could best serve in this deaf outreach. As a student in a seminary, I prayed about this early every morning. One day in my prayer, I saw exactly what Jesus was saying on the cross: “I’m crucified not only for you hearing people but also for the souls of the deaf and the mute. Kneeling down with tears running down my face, I confessed. “Lord, I was wrong.”
I knew that this ministry is the mission and work that God has given to me. I added, “I pray for the deaf in Shenyang and even all across China.”
From Small to Big
At first, we gathered in the house of a deaf brother, but more than 20 participants crowded into it. Then we started to rent an apartment. We moved five times.
Later a loving church received us. They met on Sunday mornings, while we could hold a one-hour gathering free of charge at one to two in the afternoon. It lasted one and a half years.
After I graduated from Northeast China Theological Seminary, my wife and I traveled around half of the province and eventually found our current church. The church building used to be a small factory. We rebuilt it three times with the condition that if the congregation had financial difficulties, they would also contribute their part with labor and money. Their love for the Lord and readiness for service and offerings inspired us to continue.
No matter what size of our church is, I’m very grateful that we own our own church.
Repetition as the Core of Pastoring
Through helping the deaf understand Jesus Christ’s salvation, I have found many difficulties in sharing the gospel with them.
Regular church terms are absent in Chinese Sign Language, such as Jesus, Jehovah, and the Holy Spirit. So it was necessary for deaf Christians to learn Christian sign language. Before every Sunday service, the deaf staff will teach some Christian terms in sign language for half an hour.
In order to make salvation plain to them, I tell them that any passage in the Old Testament or the New Testament that ends with Jesus Christ. Teaching them is like teaching children. Thanks to the Lord that some co-workers who have served for more than one decade know the gospel clearly. In the morning Sunday service, I preach the gospel. After that, deaf and hearing co-workers pastor members in groups where they will repeat my sermon to other deaf believers.
The key to share the gospel with them lies in repetition.
Integrated into the Group
At the outset, I guided them with fervor and great faith in the same way as if they were not hearing disabled. However, the results were disappointing. My relationship with them was like the incompatibility of water and oil. In prayer, I recognized the example of Jesus’ servanthood, that he humbled himself and came into us. I realized that I should humble myself and live like them. Laying down my “face,” I regarded myself as one of them, a “deaf” brother.
Concerned about saving face, they are polite with you, but it takes them a long time to open their hearts to you. In the beginning, my face changed pale, they immediately believed that the pastor didn’t love them. They didn’t come the second time. Gradually they knew that suggestions and criticism were good for them. They were willing to accept my words.
True love for the deaf first led to partial and finally to full success. Communication through sign language is just one part of heart-to-heart communication.
As a hearing pastor, I also need to keep my appearance, speech, and manner from being excessive. The pulpit, which is on one side of the sanctuary in our church, becomes my stage: I lie down, sit, or even dance to express a sermon. Once when I was preaching, my seminary classmate was really amazed at my “clown” show. He said, “Dasheng, you have become a fool.” Instead, I felt grateful that I could come into their world.
Testimonies of Deaf Believers
I rejoice in the changes that the deaf believers who I pastor make in their lives. Some of them were so stubborn that even their family failed to change them, but their lives were transformed because of God’s love and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Their testimonies are the driving force behind my work.
Not invited to attend their family dinner, an elderly deaf couple were angry with their family members, who were very aware of what was going on. Until midnight of that day, the couple threatened to jump from a building. Not knowing what to do, the family had to ask my wife and me for help.
When we arrived, the house was a total mess and the whole family was in a dark mood. After we talked with the couple for about 20 minutes, the couple confessed that they were wrong. Surprised at the change in the couple’s attitude, their children and neighbors could not figure it out as the children who have lived with them for twenty to thirty years could not change them.
I’m also impressed by a young man. For more than a week he fasted and appeared very unhappy because he wanted to get married. Then we talked and prayed with him. His face resumed its joy, touching his parents.
After they became Christians, some other believers have gotten rid of some bad habits. A man who used to buy tobacco and wine stopped, amazing a shop owner.
My Driving Force
Seeing my work, people may think about why I toiled for those people, but I feel happy. I’m often grateful that although I’m aware of my weakness, lack, and small faith, God loves me so much and gives me the most precious and lovable brothers and sisters to be companions in our faith journey.
I feel God’s heart is touched more by the deaf because parents care most about their weakest child. Many people keep saying that I am the one who serves them, teaching them the truth...but actually I’m the greatest beneficiary.
As persons involved in ministries for the deaf, we are the channel through which God’s love is given. We should keep praying that we can continue to receive love and grace then share them with them.
I have never regretting working in deaf ministry for 20 years. Instead, I celebrate God’s love for me. A person asked me, “Why did you start the deaf ministry?” My answer was love. The reason lies in God’s love for me and them. True love tolerates and accepts everything.
At an old age, an untidy sister smelled bad on Sunday services. She hadn’t changed clothes in two years. However, I could not “smell” anything since then because of love.
God has given me a clear plan. My purpose is more than to serve the deaf in Shenyang and to pray for more than 20 million hearing-impaired Chinese people.
When we were able to do so, we helped a church with a burden for the deaf to build a fellowship for them. We came to help the fellowship every week for the following two years. Gradually, it grew faster and faster. We also reach out to churches where there are no deaf members. If they desire to serve this disadvantaged group, we will help them to find the deaf and build fellowships.
I give thanks to God who has established other fellowships that are even better than ours. A story of a fellowship in Liaoning moved me. When a church in Xinbin County, Liaoning’s eastern Fushun City, marked its 100th anniversary, an elder in his seventies told me with tears that the prayer of his mother was answered. Working as a headmaster of a school for the deaf, the Christian mother was unable to share the gospel with deaf people. So evangelizing them became her lifelong prayer.
On Sunday, our church holds both services for the deaf and hearing people. Every time I’m asked which service I choose to serve, I feel like I’m sinning against God if I hesitate for three seconds.
My mission and work are committed to deaf people. We have founded 13 deaf fellowships in 13 areas of Liaoning, hoping to establish fellowships in 50 Chinese churches. Now we are moving on to fulfill the evangelism mission.
- Translated by Karen Luo