By April Boyer
Terry Blair, the wife of Pastor Thomas Blair of First Assembly of God in Mansfield Ohio says she first felt a need for ministering to the deaf while in Lakeland Florida. She was preparing to be a pastor's wife while her husband attended college. Though she believed that role was an important ministry in itself, she understood God had something more for her. After attending a deaf church and subsequently free classes offered by the instructor/interpreter, "I would watch the faces of the deaf. I realized that they often understand the words being signed, but were not getting the communication". She explained further that the deaf communicate not only with their hands, but with facial expressions and body language that go far beyond what the hearing use. The hearing may not seem to be communicating as much, for they lack the expressiveness. To the deaf, this may seem like something is hidden, or untruthful. "They are like a community unto themselves, a foreign language in any country of birth.
"Many of the deaf first attended church here did so for the cultural upbringing they'd had. It was what their parents did, what their neighbors did. But they actually missed so much of that upbringing-never hearing the Bible stories or the messages, never learning them or knowing them. Now, when they learn and they understand-they want more and more. These people take things very literally and to the heart-as the truth. So when they understand that they have a friend in Jesus, and what an incredible gift He's given them, they never let go of it."
She began her ministry with a class of 8-10 deaf individuals, and now assists with 20-30, as well as 15 hearing impaired. Included in a church of about 950 people, are deaf individuals coming from towns within a 50-mile radius or more. Since arriving in the Mansfield church, Blair has trained six interpreters. Of the twelve she has taught since beginning in her ministry, seven have gone on to higher education in deafness, such as teaching the deaf, speech pathology, interpreting, and deaf ministries.
Fully involved in ministry, Blair teaches sign language and interpretation classes during the school year, teaches the deaf in an 11 am Sunday service, and along with two other instructors is available to interpret as needed in all other services and events. She is quick to point out that signing is not an easy youth ministry, or a short-term project. It takes years of training to accomplish true rapport and understanding with the deaf. Terry is on the area roster to supply deaf assistance and often works with a support group in the area's family counseling center. Blair cannot nail down how many hours she works. "Like all ministries, it's a 24-7 job. They can call at any time night or day. I give them the freedom to do that."
Betty Campbell, a member of Blair's group explained that the Bible was opened up for her after she began attending interpreted church. As a child her mother tried words. She did not learn sign language until she attended high school, and did not attend interpreted church until many years later. During regular services, her husband signed words for her between them on the seat. Now, at 68 years old, she says the more she learns from the Bible, the more she wants. Many repeat now that they are happy in this kind of group, where they feel connected, loved and have grown to know God.
Blair wants her deaf church members to know not only God's love, but to see her love in action. "My heart's statement is to see the deaf in the Mansfield area-to not only feel accepted by the hearing-but by God. I know that with God anything is possible. I want them to know it and not be afraid to try. I have seen hundreds of deaf lives changed. Some deaf people know Jesus Christ not only as their personal Lord and Savior but as their friend. When they meet the Lord Jesus Christ, it's a life changing experience not only for deaf but for the hearing as well. They start respecting themselves and others. They start seeing the world as a place that doesn't owe them anything. And they start becoming an asset to the community for only the Spirit of God can truly change a life!"