Sometimes in life, we just "stumble" upon a blessing... something that already exists, but something that we get to join in and enjoy the benefit of. That is the best description I can give of our relationship with our deaf church here. When we moved to the city of Simferopol three years ago, we "stumbled" upon a growing, thriving ministry to the deaf.
Bob and Judy Van Sant
Every missionary's goal is to lead people to Christ, and then train men and women to begin doing the same. After Slava and Tanya Kratko's salvation, Slava began growing spiritually by leaps and bounds. He would come to church each Sunday with a list of questions he had drawn up after studying his Bible all week. As Slava learned the Bible, Pastor Bob began defering to him when other deaf had questions. In time, the deaf were looking to Slava as their leader, and Pastor Bob was slowly backing into the shadows.I heard Pastor Bob, through tears of joy, tell about the day the church voted to take Slava as their pastor. Pastor Bob had asked each of the church people to write on a slip of paper the name of their choice candidate. He then gave the slips of paper to Slava and asked him to go to the back to count them. Slava came back speechless, saying that his name was on every paper! Slava had not expected to ever become a pastor, but the Lord used that situation and other circumstances to call Slava to preach. He has been pastoring the deaf since 2005. (Pastor Bob has since concentrated his efforts on the hearing church, which we pray will one day have its own Ukrainian pastor as well. So, we like to point out to others that our hearing church was started as the ministry of a deaf church... usually it is done the other way around.)
Slava with his wife Tanya and daughter Natasha
Slava's ordination June 12, 2005
Pastor Slava is a man of vision, with a constant desire to see souls saved. He asked if he could begin a deaf church in the city of Sevastopol, an hour's drive away. That deaf church is now pastored by another couple from our deaf church, Andrei and Natasha.
Andrei and Natasha, deaf pastor and his wife in the city of Sevastopol
Pastor Slava has also started churches in the city of Feodocia (about two hours from us) and Yevpatoria (an hour from us).
Church group in Yevpatoria
It would be the experience of a lifetime to see a deaf church such as this one. All services are run typically like you would expect from a hearing church. Congregational "singing" is a normal part of the services. Special music is also to be expected each Sunday. And, maybe the funniest part of all is that you, as the hearing person, can sit and enjoy these services through an interpreter. Lena, our interpreter who is completely hearing but grew up in a deaf home, sits on the first row and "speaks" the signs for those who may not understand the signing.
Deaf congregation, with Lena interpreting for the hearing
Special music from a family (deaf parents, hearing daughter)
Pastor Slava, just after leading this boy (as well as 31 others this day!) to the Lord
David and I were invited to Simferopol to help in the hearing church, mainly to start a Bible college. When we first moved here, we attended the deaf services which are held Sunday mornings, beginning at 9:00am. Since then, the American missionaries have purposefully backed away from their services, in order to allow Slava the liberty of pastoring his own people. (And this is the way it should be!) Our Wednesday evening services are combined - deaf and hearing - and about 75% of church functions are combined as well.
So, do we know sign language? Not really. We have picked up a few signs here and there, but we have not applied ourselves to learn it yet. We are very focused on the hearing church and have not set aside time for formal training. However, tonight during church I beamed with happiness as I looked over and saw my Davey (age 7), who was sitting in his usual spot on the front row, following the interpreter and signing during our congregational singing! God knows just exactly what the future holds for our family. Maybe one of our children will rise up and take an active part in the deaf ministry. I would be thrilled about that! We will just wait... and see...