Thursday, July 22, 2010


Breaking Down Barriers

June 12-19 I was blessed with a week learning from Deaf Teen Quest, a ministry of Youth for Christ. This group was made up of 9 teenage students and 7 adult leaders from Kentucky, Ohio and Alabama. All but one member of the team was either Deaf or hard of hearing, but everyone signed. Our CCCD students had never interacted with a team like this, and it showed. Even a couple months since they've been gone I've had teen students coming up to me and telling me they missed DTQ. I can only agree. And I imagine when my kids come back to school this fall, they will ask if DTQ is coming back. Lord willing they will.
I hope this post doesn't offend some, and I hope everyone takes it with a grain of salt. This is just my perspective and thoughts, and what I learned from the week. Who knows, my opinion may change with time, but I have four points which I believe caused our teens to latch on to and learn from this group in such a powerful way.

1) It was a teen group, and 2) the teens were all Believers, so it was teen Christians ministering to our teen students (and younger kids also). Yes there were young adults on the team (in their 20's), but they played a larger support role than actually leading of the ministry activities, and they were also very active and easy to hang out with. The fact that it was peer-to-peer ministry makes it so much more relevant. If I ask you, "will a teen be more receptive to influence from someone their own age or someone older?" what would you say? Nobody said "peer pressure" had to be negative. Why can't we exert positive, Christ-like "peer-pressure." In the Christian world I think we would call this evangelism and outreach and witnessing. To me, it sure makes sense that my CCCD teens are going to bond and listen to those of the same age. We often have teams come that are filled with teens, but the teens are not always Christians, or at least they are not mature to the point of expressing their faith and be intentional in ministering to others. This DTQ teen group, however, were all involved in and in charge of much of the devotions and ministry activity throughout the week. Bob, the founder of the DTQ ministry, explained to me that their group that came down was really hand selected as a group of teen leaders who were fairly grounded in their faith. What a powerful example to our CCCD students! It was teens ministering to teens.
3) Many of the teens were African-American, and therefore share a common heritage to Africa and the color of their skin. I have recently been reading a History book, entitled "the Story of the Jamaican People" and it is helping me to understand the depth and extent to which Africa influences culture, values, and belief systems, even through generations far removed from their roots in African soil. I do not consider myself to be biased or prejudiced in my love and acceptance of others, however, I feel I would be naive and foolish to say that "color of one's skin doesn't matter" in cross-cultural relationships. It doesn't matter to God, as He is no respector of persons, but I am human and I have my experiential filters, as does everyone else. And our CCCD students have only their life experience as their filter. What is their life experience? According to one source, nearly 97% of Jamaica's population is either Black or mixed ethnicity. This indicates that for most of our students, the ONLY place they have interaction with White ethnicity is here at school. 95% (source: Blake's guess) of CCCD work teams are made up of Whites exclusively. As an example, I showed my kids some pictures from back home last fall. One was a picture with me and one of my best friends from Purdue, Dewayne Burns. He is Black and all the kids said, oh, he is Jamaican! No, I explained, he is not, he's an american and was born in Tennessee. But his skin is black, they said. I know, but he's american I explained. Example 2. Rockdale Baptish from GA comes every year. One of the students on that team actually has Jamaican parents, but she was born and raised in the States and is fully american. Every year when she comes, the kids get confused, as she is one Black person and the rest of the team is like me, White (or as Jamaican's call me, which I accept with affection, "whitee"). I hold no bitterness to the fact that God made me to be of White ethnicity (by the way, I'm not on the up and up with politically correct terms, so forgive me if ethnicity is not even the right word....) or that He has currently brought me to a place where I am living with and serving with people that are of a different ethnic group. I grew up in West Lafayette public school, and if I go back to my kindergarten and elementary birthday parties, my guess is that there might very well be fewer White kids in the pictures than other ethnic groups. I grew up in a town influenced by The Purdue University, which has the second highest (of all Universities in the world) representation of different nationalities amongst its student body in the entire world. But my filter of life experiences is not typical. My CCCD kids grew up with a different filter. A filter of White teams coming and bringing gifts and money and fun and love and helping the school. I have to recognize and ask myself, just as a teen will more readily accept and copy the actions/influences of someone their own age, would they not also be more deeply impacted by ministry from someone of their own color and ethnic background?
4) This is last on my list, but actually probably what I view as the most significant; they were all Deaf or hard of hearing. This is a hard pill to swallow, but I can't deny the truth of it. Is a Deaf person going to learn from and look up to someone that is like them, or someone that is different (i.e. me, a hearing person that has NO idea what its like to be Deaf). Not only do they have the psycho-emotional (is that a word?) link of their hearing loss, but the level on which a Deaf person can communicate with a Deaf person is 99% of the time profoundly greater than Deaf to Hearing communication (consider that less than 0.5% of the american population can sign fluently). I have some hearing friends that are absolutely amazing in their ability to communicate through sign language. I have some Deaf friends that are absolutely amazing in their ability to communicate through sign language, written english, and some have learned to use their voices. But this is not "standard." For a Deaf person to communicate to another Deaf person is often much different than communicating to a hearing person. Again, does this bother me? Not really, it can't. I am who God has made me to be. That is my identity. My purpose is that He has placed me here. Therefore I strive to learn and improve upon my ability to communicate in sign language, but it doesn't change the fact that my heart language is spoken english.

In all relationships in life, do we not seek to establish common ground? We associate, typically, with people with whom we have shared experiences, beliefs, values, goals, interests, etc.

Does it not make sense that one of our CCCD students (characterized broadly, for the sake of this point, as Deaf Teen Christians with African heritage) is going to more intimately bond with and be influenced by one of these DTQ teens (again, characterized broadly as Deaf Teen Christians with African heritage). Compare that to me or most mission teams, Hearing Adult Christian with White heritage (me being Swiss/German). The one facet missing from that is that, in general, I would perceive that the depth of the DTQ teens faith is also more mature than that of our CCCD students (there are exceptions). All in all, from my seat in the bleachers, this is a large part of why and how this team made such an impact on our students in just one week. Our teens were down at the team dorm area every night, the whole week. They were excited for devotions and excited for chapel time. They had so much in common, and on this common ground they were able to establish life-impacting relationships.

Now, that said (hopefully as my heart intends it to be), my personal belief is that although these "worldly" factors do influence relationships, the true depth to which a relationship is able to attain is not fully impacted by birth (ethnicity) and upbringing (environment) to a significant degree. My belief is that the deepest relationships, the ones that effect me the most and the ones in which I effect others the most, will be based on TRUST and a common BOND OF FAITH in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I hold to the belief that although I virtually have NOTHING in common with the kids I am here to love and share Jesus with, over time, if I am faithful first to God, then He can work through me to impact the lives of these kids. In my relationships with adult Jamaicans, both hearing and Deaf, I also believe that if I am faithful to God, then He is able to produce the strength in my weakness (lack of common ground and general proneness to make mistakes).

So, what's the point of sharing all this? I'm not totally sure to be honest. I've delayed in posting this for over a month, but I've had close friends from EVERY angle portrayed in this blog post (Deaf Jamaican, Deaf American, Hearing American, Hearing Jamaican, White and Black) review it, and all have supported it so I guess I am posting now. I just want you all to understand that culture and background and location and who we are as individuals greatly influences those we come into contact with and associate with, it does, BUT it does NOT need to confine us to that box. We can go outside our box, and in so doing, you may just learn a whole heap more about yourself than you knew before, you may learn a whole lot more about life and people, and you may learn a thing or two about God and his nature of love. God in His nature is a God of diversity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) so should we, as His body, not strive for diversity as well and break down the barriers that too often separate us? I wholly believe that the only way to get over our differences is by not letting them dictate our relationships, and rather embracing our differences and giving glory to God for creating us in HIS diverse image.

I hope this makes sense, and if you have any thoughts on how this could be better worded, or if you have questions for me, please do let me know, I certainly wouldn't mind starting a conversation about these points that have recently had my head spinning.

The team at Dunn's River Falls
Demetric and I...he can play ball!
Robert (one of the adult leaders) needs to move down here and work with me, he was awesome with the kids and a ton of fun!
Heather, the team leader, is a Purdue Alum, Boiler Up!
Bob and Kathy Ayres, and their daughter, Ana. Awesome family displaying God's love! I found out on day 2 of the trip that Bob is the author of the book I have been reading, Deaf Diaspora - the 3rd wave in Deaf my book is personalized and autographed!
Suzanne, another one of the adult leaders, was fantastic both with the little kids and the teens.

Thank you DTQ, for loving on our kids and teaching me so much! Thank you Lord, for your faithfulness in all things, and for teaching me more about your love this week.

thanks for the thoughts and update Blake

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