Driving down the road, Gloria said to her mom, “Open the door of the window.” Her mom paused, wondering what Gloria might mean. After a moment, she realized that Gloria had misheard the phrase, “Open the car door window.” Gloria and other individuals with hearing loss can “mishear” or miss auditory information. Families with members who have hearing loss often ask how they can support their loved one’s communication.
In 2016, the Schindel and Peltier families met at their school district’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) playgroup for children aged zero to five. The Schindel and Peltier families joined this playgroup because members of their families (Gloria and Louis) had hearing loss and qualified for early intervention services. In the months following their initial connection, the Peltiers and Schindels came to realize that they not only had children with hearing loss, but also many other things in common. One commonality was that they attended LCMS churches in Washtenaw County. Another commonality was that both families, including their children, began learning American Sign Language (ASL) to support communication and language development.
As the school year progressed, the families chatted about how their children’s hearing loss influenced communication. The DHH playgroup and early intervention services supported ASL instruction for everyday use, but there were communication gaps that arose while the families and children attended and participated in church services and events. A poignant example occurred during the St. Paul Lutheran School’s Christmas program, which was held at Concordia University Ann Arbor. During the program, Louis was highly distracted because of the limitations of his hearing aids. His behavior changed when his sister began to sign Away in a Manger with the other students. Louis’s eyes focused on his sister and he got a smile on his face. He had access to the joyous Christmas message!
It was moments such as that Christmas program that led the Schindel and Peltier families to ponder how they could provide access within the Church. In their search, the families connected with the Michigan District’s Deaf Ministry. Through the support of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society, a Deaf Ministry was begun at Cross and Resurrection Lutheran Church in Ypsilanti. Initially, the Deaf Ministry program focused on providing monthly ASL Sunday School classes for children aged infants through elementary school and beginning ASL instruction for adults. Deaconess Diana Rice, who serves with Ephaphtha, taught these classes. As the ministry at Cross and Resurrection has grown over the past two years, it has expanded to providing interpreted worship services twice per month. From September–April, worship attendees can also stay for a meal and community socializing following the worship service.
It has been three years since God planned for our family to meet the Schindels at a DHH playgroup. I remain amazed at how God orchestrated the beginnings of the Deaf Ministry at Cross and Resurrection through a chance encounter. It reminds me that God does truly take what society (and even ourselves) identifies as burdens, differences, or disabilities and uses them for His greater glory. He does LOVE each and every one of us.
Photos courtesy of Rev. Bryan and Laura Schindel