Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ears to Understand Church

"When we reach the station, that will be it!" we cry. "When I'm 18." "When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz!" "When I put the last kid through college." "When I get a promotion." "When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!"

Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream."

-The Station, by Robert J. Hastings

Yesterday, I met with an amazing woman named Lisa Purkey. She is a mom of two little boys and the wife of Jon. Both have just launched Nexus Church in Kansas City. Lisa knows me from Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) when I spoke to her MOPS group about my hearing loss experiences. She came to me on a quest for information. After hearing me speak before, Lisa never forgot that there are thousands of people in our city who can't hear well. Her mission now is to find out as much about the needs of people who are hard of hearing or Deaf and somehow engage us through Nexus.

Lisa posted this on the Nexus Facebook page:

"I'm so excited that Nexus Church is going to be taking an active role in reaching out to our deaf and hard of hearing community in Johnson County!!! We have some amazing things in store for reaching these people creatively, and not just setting them in a corner for deaf people! We want them to be a part of every aspect... of our church!!! Details to come!!!!!! Can't wait!!!!!!!!!!"

Something interesting about Lisa is that although she can hear fine, she can't see well. In high school, she was diagnosed with vision loss and began wearing contact lenses. All those years prior to getting help, her world was fuzzy. Words on the chalkboard at school were a strain to see, and she squinted to read words on a TV screen. After getting help, Lisa remembers seeing the detail on blades of grass, how the texture and color popped in the sunlight. Her vision was clear... with help.

I've written articles and spoken before what a struggle it is to hear in group settings. Church is among one of those hearing-challenged settings. Without real-time captions at each service, I miss key words in a sermon. I lose the connection with other able-hearing people during the worship and sharing times because I can't lipread all the moving lips speaking into microphones.

The meeting with Lisa opened my eyes to a mission: I want my ears to *hear* everything at church. If Lisa could see so clearly with help after such a long time of struggling, what is stopping me from being able to attend church where I can hear and understand all that is being said?

Examples Lisa and I discussed about ways Nexus Church could help those with hearing issues:

* Immerse yourself in the Deaf and hearing loss cultures. Visit the U.S.'s only Deaf Cultural Center, based in Kansas City. Get to know the staff and volunteers, many of whom are Deaf. Attend a meeting of the Hearing Loss Association of America. Visit the Kansas School for the Deaf and meet teachers and students. Ask them what their needs are with regards to church.

* Provide interpreters for the Deaf and CART (real-time captions) of all spoken words during the service. Words would be projected onto a screen behind the stage. CART is especially useful to people who do not know sign language and can't hear well. It also can help the entire audience understand everything spoken from the stage.

* Visit audiologists, and get to know their lingo. What is the difference between a behind-the-ear hearing aid and an in-the-canal aid? What is an audiogram? What do the words "hearing assistive technology" mean?

I am encouraged from this meeting with my friend, Lisa. It has opened my eyes to someone pursuing a mission and not waiting for the right time, place or feeling. Just getting on that train and taking it wherever it leads... down a hilly path, or a smooth one, or one with all the lows and highs that come from doing the right thing.


Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

Church must be very difficult from hearing the sermon to sitting near those speakers that are sometimes set way too loud. I'm glad you've made a friend that is helping you reach out to the deaf/hoh community in your area!

billcreswell said...

I feel like I've been on one of those trains. From the "first contact" from a deaf user of Mopix in 2007, to caption 600+ videos and movie trailers, to joining the board of the local deaf and hard of hearing service and now providing voice captioning in my own church.

4 years ago, I don't believe I had ever known a deaf person in my life. (tho they can be "hidden people" sometimes)

Shanna Groves said...

Joey and Bill - Thank you for following this discussion. I hope in the weeks to come to post updates here about the work Nexus Church is doing to be accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing. Blessings to you both!