Editorial: Children without names, without language

PUBLISHED ON 15 JULY, 2016 BY

Kenya (MNN) — How much of our identity is attached to our names? Isn’t it true that our names give us distinction and help us feel valued as an individual? They’re so attached to our person that we hardly ever think about our names at all.

But this isn’t so true for some deaf children. Rob Myers of DOOR International explains that the reality is many deaf children don’t even know what it means to have a name. 

(Image courtesy of DOOR International)

Even if their families have given them a name, it’s spoken.

Up until he was seven years old, this was the reality for Njoroge in Kenya. He grew up surrounded by hearing people. Nobody, not even his teacher, knew sign language. It’s an understatement to say that schooling was difficult.

But then one day, one of DOOR’s 2×2 team — a church planting, leadership training, and evangelism initiative — met Njoroge.

“At that point, the team actually gave him a name. He didn’t have a sign name up to that point, he didn’t have a name in his own language and he really didn’t even understand what it meant to have a name,” Myers says.

It turns out, Njoroge’s situation up to this point is pretty typical for deaf children worldwide.
Myers says, “It’s estimated that about 20% of deaf children actually have access to education in a sign language environment. A lot of research has shown if students don’t have access to sign language when they’re trying to learn written language, they don’t actually acquire language very easily.”

Sometimes, parents even hide these children away because they are ashamed to have a child who can’t hear.

This means 80-percent of children are in a similar place as Njoroge before he encountered the resources DOOR provides.

Language allows for Scripture

But what’s more concerning, Myers says, is the fact that not having access to language usually means they don’t have access to the Gospel.

“That is one of our biggest concerns. We really want to see this next generation of deaf kids be able to be raised up to know Jesus, to know His Word, and to be able to share it with other people.”

Njoroge is happy to have a chance to learn his own language.

People in Njoroge position, if they can’t get an education, usually end up doing manual labor.

“As these kids grow up and eventually become full members of society, it’s very hard for them to be employed because with that lack of education, they’re going to struggle a lot.”

Myers says that even in the United States, employment rates are extremely low for the deaf communities. For countries where education is even harder to get, unemployment is higher.

DOOR’s 2×2 groups are working in 12 countries. Part of their work is focusing in on deaf schools. There, they give resources to the teachers and children while training the teachers how to teach the children Scripture.

This Scripture has been translated into their particular sign language. In other countries, DOOR is working on various translations. Translators from those countries are invited to the deaf schools to see how Scripture can be implemented once it’s completed.

“For many of these deaf kids, they’ve never really even seen a deaf adult before. So they’ve never seen a deaf role model, they’ve never seen God’s Word in their heart language. So this is an amazing experience for them.”

Bringing up leaders

Many of these leaders in the deaf communities grew up without Scripture in their language. They are doubly motivated to bring children out of Scripture poverty and influence them to be leaders in deaf Christian communities someday.

Myers says we cannot imagine what it would be like to live in linguistic isolation your whole life and to have someone reach out to you, not only with a language but also with the hope of the Gospel. For this reason, deaf communities are extremely close.

Today, Njoroge is attending a deaf church where he is learning sign language. The people working for him are optimistic that he will someday be a fluent signer, come to know Jesus, and will be a leader in his community.

Myers says this is their prayer for all deaf children. “You can definitely be praying for deaf kids around the world. Obviously because of the lack of sign language resources, many of these kids don’t have access to God’s Word. So you can pray those barriers would come down, that God’s Word would be made available to them.”

You can also support DOOR’s translation work or help them provide resources for others here.

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