Hearing God in Permanent Silence

One believer asks a church for the deaf why they don't pray for healing.

My head pounds. I want the music to stop already—to give my ears a rest.

But there is no rest for eardrums at Los Angeles Deaf Church, especially during the praise portion of Wednesday night Bible studies.

Loud music at a deaf church? Yeah, that’s right. Deaf churches like to jack up the volume. It allows worshippers to feel the music, and it also scares off hearing people. Well, not really. L.A. Deaf Church welcomes hearing parishioners, though most are deaf or hard of hearing.

Loud music at a deaf church? Yeah, that’s right.

Sitting in this small, brick, steepled church lost in the endless gray expanse of Los Angeles’s urban tundra, sandwiched between working-class Latino and Korean strip malls, I marvel as deaf parishioners wave arms and shout to worship music blasting over large speakers:

Give thanks to the Lord
Give thanks to the Lord

The song underscores the irony. Give thanks to the Lord? Give thanks for being deaf? I say to myself. You have to be kidding.

But Jeff Perri, an energetic member of the church who has been deaf for all his 50 years, asks me why someone can’t be happy, give thanks to God and also be deaf. “Are hearing Christians the only people who can be happy?” he says.

Perri makes a good point, but I still don’t buy it. I mean, didn’t Jesus heal the deaf?

As word gets out that there’s a hearing guy visiting, I become popular. Jordan Eickman, a bespectacled and thoughtful L.A. Deaf parishioner, tells me that Jesus healed those who wanted to hear. “But I’m not asking to be hearing,” he insists. “I’m happy being the way I am.” Teaching deaf studies at a local university, Eickman says his job and his church ministry fulfill him. “God made me deaf, and I’m okay with that.”

I mean, didn’t Jesus heal the deaf?

Eickman’s answer is common at L.A. Deaf. Almost everyone at the 65-member church tells me that they aren’t interested in being able to hear, but some say that they struggled with their deafness.

With a big laugh and even a bigger bear hug, Bradley Tate says he’s visited many churches where believers laid hands on him, praying to heal his life-long deafness, but it never happened. Tate says that he isn’t sure he ever wanted to be healed; mostly it was other people who felt he needed to be fixed.

I cringe and think I’m doing the same thing to these folks by asking if they want to be able to hear. Maybe it’s like them asking me if I want to be healed from hearing. And maybe God made people deaf for a reason, for them to learn a particular spiritual lesson.

But later, I spot Tate signing and laughing it up with other deaf parishioners and my doubts flood back. I think that I could never be happy if I were deaf. It’s a tough life. You can’t enjoy music in the same way as a hearing person. You can’t easily converse with the rest of the population. It’s hard to land a job, and on and on. And I wouldn’t be too thrilled with God—and certainly not enough to worship Him like Tate and the others do at L.A. Deaf Church every Wednesday night and Sunday morning.

I need more answers. I decide to talk to the pastor of L.A. Deaf Church, Rev. Rodney Renusch.

The 62-year-old, gray-bearded Renusch tells me a fascinating story: In 1975, when he was a pastor of a deaf church in Michigan, a woman who had been deaf since birth asked if he would pray that she would become hearing. Renusch did, and much to her surprise—and his—she was healed on the spot. Renusch says it was an emotional day for the church, filled with tears of joy and wonder.

I need more answers.

After the healing, though, Renusch says he struggled with accepting his own deafness and pleaded with God: “What about me, Lord? What about making me hearing, too?” Renusch says God told him that he was to remain deaf because he had an important deaf ministry to continue. Renusch accepted God’s will.

I gulped. I wasn’t sure that I could be so understanding.

It’s now another Wednesday evening, and another evening of blasting worship music inside L.A. Deaf Church. I stare at the same deaf worshipers, wondering how they could show up so dutifully every Sunday morning and Wednesday night to praise a God who seemed to turn a deaf ear to their plight. These are extraordinary Christians: Many are low-income and struggling financially, but they faithfully tithe every week.

The music grows louder now, and my ears began to hurt. This time I do something. I slip to the back of the church, getting as far away as I can from the blaring stage speakers.

Who wouldn’t raise their hands in praise if they really believed this?

And as I plug my ears with my index fingers and watch Pastor Renusch, Bradley, Jordan, Jeff and the rest of the worshippers wave hands, sing and praise God, I’m suddenly drawn to the beatific faces of two young parishioners on stage, signing with the music and facing the congregation. They look so happy, so content, so serene.

I smile. This is my epiphany. I finally know how they can be deaf and praise God with so much joy, with so much intensity and with so much love: They really believe this whole Christian thing.

They really believe God exists. They really believe He loves them. They really believe He wants a relationship with them. They really believe there is a heaven where they will dwell with Him for eternity.

Who wouldn’t raise their hands in praise if they really believed this?

As a Christian, I ask myself if I really believe this. Is it just a nice story? If I truly believed it, would I be questioning why some people seem so happy to praise God? If I truly believed it, then what could be more powerful, more fulfilling, more meaningful than to praise the Almighty like the members of L.A. Deaf Church?

As the music swells, I’m humbled, ashamed. My eyes moisten, and I let my hands drop from my ears. I clap my hands, sway with the music and sing along with Bradley, Jordan, Jeff, Pastor Renusch, the two young signers and everyone else in the little deaf church in the big city of Los Angeles. And I imagine for a moment how we will all one day be in God’s presence together, seeing and hearing all the glory of God’s Kingdom. And for the first time, my ears don’t hurt.



Romans6 commented…

I relate to this article on multiple levels. As a hearing Christian who has been involved with the Deaf community for over 10 years, I think this article does a great job of describing the beliefs and attitudes of my Deaf friends and colleagues, regardless of whether or not they're Christians.

But there's a second level of resonance for me. As a gay Christian, the way I understand my sexual orientation is very similar to the way that these believers understand their deafness. We believe that God made us as we are, for His purposes, and we believe that God's purposes in the world would be better served if the Church would focus less on trying to "fix" us and more on helping to equip us for the unique calling that we have.


JBassior commented…

Fascinating and full of surprises. A satisfying inside glimpse into the hearts of these parishioners. Especially love the ending where Chiorazzi reveals how he has been profoundly changed.


john commented…

An insightful look at an interesting community. The members of L.A. Deaf Church seem to have truly learned to 'count their blessings.' Impressive.


Jason L commented…

I have been following the writer Anthony Chiorazzi for a few years now he allways has interesting things to say that gives me an out look on what he is talking about that i never would have thought of , keep up the good work Anthony !


Hereintime commented…

Great article, I now have compassion for the deaf, and why shouldn't I? I also now have greater admiration for them, whether they are Christ followers of not. But the comment by Romans6 gets it all wrong -again (sadly he hasn't been right for a long time). What a terrible offense to the deaf, to compare their plight to those who choose a homosexual lifestyle. Man up, if you are a Christian and have same sex attraction, you MUST fight it. Are you afraid that if you admit you MUST fight it, that you would therefor be admitting that you ARE NOT born homosexual?? You pursue the homosexual lifestyle because you enjoy it. You are pleased with your perversity...and unwilling to admit you are in fact perverse. I'm not saying it's easy, for some it's clearly the toughest battle of their lives, and quite literally. Don't give up, there are many great resources. Read this article http://www.christianitytoday.c...

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