News and Views

Christ Deaf UMC runs on a ministry-focused road

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By Sandi Johnson
Pastor of Christ Deaf UMC in Magothy.

Members of the Christ Deaf UMC choir perform during worship at the church.Since 1895, Christ Deaf UMC has been the place where hearing people could connect with their Deaf, deaf-blind and hearing-impaired sisters and brothers. Now, we are actively responding to the challenge from Ephesians 4 issued at last year’s Annual Conference: “I want you to get out there and walk — better yet, run! — on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands.”

The people of Christ Deaf UMC are taking this biblical command to heart and reaching out to creatively engage the greater community.

Deaf and deaf-blind people live in a minority culture set apart from others by barriers to effective communication. As the neighborhood around the church began to have more residents who have recently moved to Baltimore from Myanmar (Burma), it was natural for the people of Christ Deaf UMC to participate in ministries to help their new neighbors learn to communicate.

The church opened its arms and its doors to provide a variety of ministries including English classes, worship and Girl Scouts. Case Workers from the Deaf Shalom Zone began to help with issues ranging from immigration questions to healthcare access.

Another way Christ Deaf UMC engages the community is by providing internship opportunities for hearing students from several local universities. Every year, 35 or more students build one-on-one relationships with Deaf and deaf-blind people who help them polish their American Sign Language (ASL) skills and learn about the difficulties Deaf and deaf-blind people face in navigating obstacles in employment, health care and the legal system.

For the past semester, as pastor of Christ Deaf UMC, I’ve been cooperating with Health Care for All in supervising an intern from the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland. The intern gained experience in working with the congregation and used her learnings to co-author a paper entitled “Lost In Translation: Providing Person-Centered Care to Linguistic Minorities.”

This paper concluded: “Pastor Sandi has learned a way to communicate necessary information to her congregants, and the effectiveness of these communication strategies are not limited to the Deaf community. Health care providers must avail themselves of the language services that already exist to provide linguistically appropriate care. But providers can go further by altering their methods of communication to best meet the needs of individuals. Adapting some of the communication strategies used by Pastor Sandi might help providers move toward providing more person-centered, culturally appropriate care.”

The full article can be found here.

Last Fall, two students from St. Timothy’s School in Stevenson decided that for their senior project they would learn American Sign Language. When they determined that YouTube videos were not sufficient, they contacted Christ Deaf UMC.

For weeks, the students attended Sign Choir practice and Bible study. As they gained proficiency and confidence, the students began to teach their high school choir to sign along with several songs.

In April, the Sign Choir from Christ Deaf UMC traveled to St. Timothy’s School to perform two songs with the student choir. A YouTube video of the final rehearsal can be found here

“The Message” version of Ephesians 4 warns Christians not to “sit on their hands.” Far from sitting on their hands, the people of Christ Deaf UMC are using their hands in American Sign Language to build relationships and share the good news of Jesus Christ with their neighbors and others.