Q. Larry Evans, responsible of Special Needs Ministries of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What is your impression of this International Congress?
Larry Evans: I was very impressed, that regardless of the culture there's a special bond between the deaf and the hearing who are here to work with them. I was moved as I listened today to the song “How great thou art” as I watched it being signed. When I sing a song that comes from my heart, nobody sees it, but when the deaf signs a song, they express it with their fingers, hands, eyes, with their face--their whole body. It is a moving experience to see a group of Deaf sing that son. Their commitment and dedication clearly comes through.
I sometimes concerned that the Deaf are not adequately understood by the hearing world. If they only knew, if they could only see, if they could only experience what I have experienced here, I think they would feel a greater urgency to reach the three hundred million people who do not know Jesus. Only two percent of the three hundred million are Christians. When we see that these people who have a heart, and an intelligence, like anyone else, yet do not have access to the gospel we are convicted that something has to be done to change that! There are good signs emerging around the world that many are beginning have that conviction and that bring hope to me. , My concern is that many well-meaning church administrators have not given this ministry a high priority. Its one thing for someone to have a choice and say “No, I’m not interested,” but it’s a very different situation whe a choice isn’t provided. With the General Conference’s new emphasis on Special Needs Ministries that is beginning to change. We must not neglect this part of God’s mission field.
As a Church we do a great job producing various forms if media to reach the public. In fact, we invest millions of dollars but unfortunately very few deaf even have access. We don’t do this intentionally but the effect is the same. In many countries digital media must be captioned. We are pleased to announce that very soon there will be a Hope Channel – Deaf that will be captioned in five different languages.
Q. What did impress you the most of this event?
Larry Evans: I think the enthusiasm of the deaf that developed when they came together. They need the fellowship. They are so excited, even though they do not sign the same language. There is a bond that they have. This bonding is a strength they need to face their own spiritual challenges. Spiritually we as a Church must provide these kinds of opportunities. I’ve been directly involved with Deaf ministry for the past five years. It is amazing what I have seen develop withing this rather short time. Just a little recognition, a little support has made and is making a “global” difference. This group has exploded in infrastructure, in members, and there is a lot of Deaf leaderhip developing. It is just a matter of giving them equal opportunity. I can not explain why I have such a passion to see this ministry go forward. I think it is something God has put on my heart. I once tried to shake it but it didn’t last. I feel handicapped because I do not sign, I don’t claim to be a Moses but like Moses I’ve asked for an Aaron – a lot of Aarons. In one sense it’s a good thing. Far too often the hearing try to take over and tell the Deaf what they have to do. In my case I am much more dependent on the Deaf which forces me to work “with” and not just “for” the Deaf. Organizationally, right now every single Division has his own Deaf Ministry representative. Some deaf people do not realize how much the Adventist world is changing in their favor. I see it everywhere. I personally believe the Deaf ministry has become a people movement among both the the Deaf and the hearing. It is rapidly becoming more than a “program.” My role is to encourage leaders and other members to pray for God’s Spirit to show us what we should do and really what we should become for this marginalized people. That's the challenge but I am also very optimistic about the future.
Q. Personally, what touched your heart the most?
Larry Evans: Well I mentioned it, the song “How great Thou art.” Experiencing it with the Deaf literally brought tears to my eyes. Seeing the expression in a whole person express his or her love for God is something I won’t forget.
Q. Do you feel they may express their feelings better than yourself with just your voice?
Larry Evans: Well, they show it in visible ways! They physically demonstrate it more. I wouldn't want to say that a deaf person is more spiritual than a hearing one, but they do express it in unique ways. Lately I’ve given a fair amount of study and thought to the Creation account. In relation to that I’ve also reflected on what is often referred to as “Social Darwinism.” I don’t think many have given much thought two what is a natural outcome of the evolutionary model does to the value of a person who is not like what we call “normal.” Creation teaches that we begin with value and worth whether we have a disability or not! We don’t earn that value by the work we have or what we are able to contritute to a society. I have spoken in a number of places where I have given emphasis to the fact that all of us—deaf, blind, crippled—are created in the image of God. The response has been amazing! So our theme for this ministry that I represent it speaks is all about recognizing the dignity each one is borth with and to promote a more profound respect for those who have often been neglected and rejectged. In fact, the motto for the new Special Needs Ministry is “All are gifted, needed and treasured!” Without the Deaf the Church simply is not complete. They are not only needed and treasured, the gifts God has given them will enrich the Church. Just like a marriage not being complete without both male and female so the Church is not complete without the Deaf, blind and those who have physical or mental limitations.
Q. If you are a hearing person, and you do not know how to sign, it is a kind of switching places in this congress. All of them can share, worship, talk, laugh, enjoy through sign language, but if there's someone who is not able to sign, it feels like “I want to participate more but I can not”.
Larry Evans: I feel somewhat alone and isolated here. I’ve thought about that many times while I’ve been here. I’m not totally alone as there are those who do speak English. However, it was my observation of a Deaf person being alone that originally got me started with Deaf ministry. Years and years ago, I was sitting in a pastors meeting and observed the one deaf pastor sitting obediently but by himself. He came and just sat there. There was no interpretation for him. He came and sat through the pastors’ meeting out of pure loyalty. After the meeting I went over and wrote some things on a notepad and said: “You are not understanding this. Would you like to come to my office and I’ll try to share with you the most important points?” And at that time I was using a TTY machine machine that had a smal LED reader. I would type the messages for him so he could read and he would type back his questions and thoughts. It was a really great introduction to the Deaf world. He had been receiving very little information that all the other pastors received. Unfortunately there are fewer pastors for the Deaf in North America than there were then. That's a heavy weight on my shoulders. We really much change that. I’ve been a conference president so I know how tight a conference budget can be but we simply must see this as part of the Church’s mission.
Q. When we, hearing people, are sharing the gospel with others, we are very afraid to be rejected, mostly, and people, if they do not want to listen to you, they don't want to pay attention to you, then they just walk away.
Larry Evans: They have a choice. Most Deaf in the world are not being given that opportunity.
Q. But, when a deaf person loves the Lord and has the burden of sharing the gospel, an unstoppable impulse, their friends will listen to that person, discuss, talk about Jesus, the Bible, God, and none would just walk away. They could either accept or not, but they will most likely stay within the conversation. This is something I have seen in this ministry, we have some German interpreters in this congress that are not Adventist.
Larry Evans: Yesterday I rode in the bus with another non Adventist person. As I began explaining to her some Bible truths, she kept asking over and over again, saying “write those texts down”. The hunger for a deepr understanding of Scripture is there.
Q. They have much less prejudices than the hearing people.
Larry Evans: I was expecting her to stop me. I even implied that I was sharing more than she probably wanted, but she emphatically said, “No, tell me!” I seen this over and over again but not only with the Deaf but with the hearing too. Providing a rationale for whywe have the hope we have makes so much difference even with complete strangers! As I mentioned earlier, we we can see in the biblical teaching of Creation as more than how old the earth is and focus on the value that God placed in us at the very beginning it sets the foundation for whole new way of thinking about the present and the future. Without that foundation we can see from history some natural consequences. We can better understand how Hitler could conclude that by killing 270.000 disabled people would actually make the world a better place. We must not simply work for the Deaf from a socialistic point of view but from a sense of personal worth as taught in Scripture. This is why I prefer to minimize the word “disability” because it tends to focus on what a person cannot do rather than what they are gifted to do.
Q. Just because of their condition, the deaf use to be more bold in life in many ways. They have to fight strongly and toughly in life, more than others in order to achieve what is easy for the hearing people. The deaf are so used to fight, to be courageous, than for them is not a “big deal” to just share the gospel with others. They probably are more courageous than the regular people to break barriers and to share things that others feel sometimes ashamed of. This is a potential that would work in a strong way if we could push forward this ministry to start it strongly.
Larry Evans: You are right because they have had to face so much opposition. As a result there also another challenge for the deaf have to face. Because they have at times had to become rather assertive they in some instance become a bit annoying and even offensive to the hearing. I have seen it happen and more than once I’ve had to explain to a hearing person why the Deaf person responded the way they did.. That's one of my roles. The Deaf sometimes are rather blunt. They do not expect you to read “between the lines.” However, when you get to know them, they are very gentle people. One of the problems is when the hearing are trying to help the deaf, they sometimes try to make the decisions for the deaf. The deaf need to be able to have the freedom to make their own decisions. They tend to process information differently and therefore the way they make decisions may be different I have at times rather innocently made the mistake of trying to push that process. I am still learning but I’ve made progress. We need work on understanding more than some of the expectations that are part of a hearing culture. In the end, however, the values are quite similar
Q. Any further comments?
Larry Evans: I just pray that the church will realize the potential that these people have. We must begin to see each other with the vast amount of potential the Deaf have. Remembering that they too were created at the image of God is a good place to begin. When we realize that, then we will to do whatever we can to cooperate with God as He opens the doors for these people and become active in God’s family.