Pastor Nick Poindexter and Collide Church would do “whatever it takes to reach the unreached.” For the 8-year-old Yadkinville church, that meant learning a new language and culture to reach what some might consider a “missing mission field,” as Poindexter describes — the Deaf community.
When Collide was first planted in 2014, the church had a vision to reach a young, unchurched population who had no church home, who needed to go outside of Yadkin County to be part of a church community. They wanted to offer a local church home to their neighbors.
During Collide’s anniversary celebration in April 2019, Poindexter saw a friend who asked if they offered sign language interpretation during services. She had a coworker whose family traveled 45 minutes to attend a church that did.
“What we tried to start [nine] years ago … was still happening, but it was a different people group that we had overlooked,” Poindexter said.
“It wasn’t the 20-somethings that were driving 30-45 minutes. … It was the Deaf who were driving to find a church where they could actually listen and hear and worship.”
Poindexter then met Angela Blevins, whose daughter was the coworker his friend told him about. Blevins has been around the Deaf community since she was a teenager and studied interpreting in college. Her husband, brother-in-law and two grandchildren are deaf.
Together they learned there were about 50 Deaf people in Yadkin County. In November 2019, Collide held their first worship service that included American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, with Blevins as the interpreter.
Today there are six Deaf adults and two Deaf children that regularly attend. Two Deaf individuals, connected to a group Blevins meets with, recently put their faith in Jesus.
Poindexter said the ministry has “helped to open our church’s eyes.”
“They come to that 10:30 service, they see the interpreter on stage, and they remember, ‘These are people who are part of our church. There are people like them outside of our church that we’re called to reach.’
“It’s a good visible reminder that [missions] does start here, and it extends beyond that.”
Blevins said it takes time, but every element of engaging the Deaf community helps build trust. At Collide, the greeter team is trained to at least have a basic understanding of common phrases, signs and proper greetings in ASL. They have a goal of training kids’ ministry volunteers to communicate in basic ASL.
“Once you commit, it’s not just a stage thing. It becomes an all-elements-of-your-ministry thing … so we can do a good job to minister to all of them in different ways,” said Poindexter.
He encourages pastors and church leaders who hope to begin a Deaf ministry not only to commit to it as a church, but also as individual leaders. He has been learning ASL to get to know Collide’s deaf members — something he had some experience with when he was a college student and had deaf classmates.
It also requires extra time to send Blevins transcripts for song lyrics and sermons, so she can prepare for interpreting.
“Just one movement of your hand can change the whole meaning,” Blevins said.
Bo Sherrill, N.C. Baptist consultant for Deaf ministry, began serving the Deaf community about 40 years ago. The church he was a part of then had welcomed a new senior pastor who came from a church that did have a Deaf ministry.
There were members in that church who were deaf, and Sherrill knew other Deaf in the community who, like the Blevins, were going to another town for Deaf ministry. When the new pastor led the church to establish the ministry, Sherrill and his wife started taking sign language classes.
“That was God’s calling in our life,” he said.
Sherrill said Deaf culture has changed over the last 30 years, since education integrated from Deaf schools to public schools. Some have felt more isolated having less Deaf connections in their communities.
Poindexter has seen this same challenge during the week. He and Blevins hope to be able to offer ASL interpretation and resources in a small group setting and not only on Sundays. Their deaf members otherwise miss the relationship building and growth that happen in small-group settings.
Sherrill also encourages pastors and church leaders to not take Deaf ministry lightly but to consider it as a commitment to pray about. Churches can also contact an interpreting agency as a resource. On May 5-7, 2023, Deaf leaders and church interpreters will gather at Caraway Conference Center for the Together in Christ training.
“The more you start doing, the more they’re seeing that it’s all about love,” said Blevins. “You just want to show the community love.”
Editor’s Note: Image by Twinkle Poindexter. Used with permission.