‘Isabel Pamatmat’

In North Asia during the 1990’s, anyone living with a disability, whether that be blindness, being deaf or being handicapped, meant that they were an embarrassment to the country. The government would send anyone with a disability to live on the fringes of society. Even parents of those who were deaf would hand their children over to the government and put them in an orphanage at the age of 2, only to be left to their own devices. These children would never hear from their parents again. Most of the deaf who were put into orphanages did whatever they could to survive and by the age of 18 they were released and had to fend for themselves. 

In the 1990’s it was illegal to do any sort of sign language in public. For the deaf, this made them even more marginalised from civilisation. As a result, a secret sign language began to take place. Not only that, but gangs, mafia groups and criminal activity became rife within these deaf communities. This happened because of the way that they were so discriminated against by ordinary citizens of society. 

People with disabilities growing up in North Asia were hated, shunned and considered the lowest of the lowest class. People were afraid of them. They thought their disabilities were contagious. These people became outcasts and a forgotten race. But not forgotten by God. 

Stephen and Trish*[1] lived in a secret city in North Asia where 70,000 deaf people lived. Since the recent and significant War in their country, locals have always been suspicious of foreigners. Being mission workers to this area, it was not their intention to reach the deaf. However, Stephen and Trish kept running into deaf people all the time. This became the beginning of God’s sowing in the seed of the deaf church that would one day grow to be a church that had over 400 members. 

Stephen shared how he had met one deaf man, Alexei*[2] who had asked him why on earth he had come to his country; a place of civil and political unrest, and not only that, extremely cold weather that reached minus 45 degrees Celsius. Stephen replied with ‘I have a message for you that’s from God and I’m here to communicate it with you’, to which Alexei responded with ‘Well what’s the message?’, with Stephen replying with ‘I’ll tell you someday’ and Alexei answering ‘No, tell me now!’. 

Alexei would come over to their apartment where Stephen would draw pictures that illustrated the personhood of God. However, seeing as Alexei was illiterate, he found Stephen’s method super offensive, yet his heart was captured by his intrigue of what this message from God could be. In order to solve this problem, Alexei and Stephen started meeting at 6am every morning with Alexei teaching Stephen how to speak the national language through sign. 

Alexei would not only teach Stephen how to sign in the national language, but he brought others along with him to hear God’s story. With courage and hope, sensitivity and anticipation, Stephen and Trish began a bible study with the deaf, covering the lifesaving truths from Creation to Christ. 

“God communicating through Jesus coming to earth was a big deal for the deaf. God had a specific message for them. God always wanted to communicate with them. He desired relationship with them,” said Stephen. 

Stephen shared how at the beginning of these bible study meetings, there was absolutely no joy. One of the members’ named Mikhail*[3] was part of the mafia and people were very afraid of him. He was a man who was wanted for murder, having killed two police officers in the past. Mikhail brought people to the Bible study group out of coercion and tried to take advantage of Stephen and Trish, as if he was trying to get something out of them. 

Overtime, his growing faith was liberating not only for himself, but redeeming for others. As his faith grew, Mikhail took the initiative to make things right by turning himself into the government. He served years and years in prison as a result. When he was released, he became such a dynamic believer and communicator of the Gospel and still is up until this day.

A man who once was lost, a murderer, was now being used by God in order that others would die to sin and gain new life in Christ for eternity. A man who was an outcast and a criminal, now had a place in God’s kingdom family, with a crown of glory on his head. 

“Even guys that had done things like murder could be forgiven by God.”

“Suddenly, the meetings were so much more engaging and alive. Mikhail confessed to being a believer and told the others they didn’t need to come anymore. However, everyone stayed. Everyone wanted to be there to continue hearing the Good News.”

Stephen and Trish started more and more small groups and continued to faithfully share narrative studies about Jesus. ‘People just began to have such a hunger for God’s Word,’ Stephen said. 

People literally came knocking on our door, saying, ‘Are you the people that can speak our language? Can you communicate who God is and what he’s done for us? Will you teach us?’ The group grew dramatically from then.’ 

A place barren with no hope to be found lied a community of deaf people who were longing to hear more about the good news of Jesus Christ. Finding themselves in this secret city, Stephen and Trish created a business plan, to their surprise ended up involving selling hot dogs. In their city there were no fast-food shops or pop-up restaurants. They built a kiosk which replicated to about 35 stands which had fans that blew delicious smells of hot food travelling for miles afar in the winter cold.

Stephen and Trish hired 400 deaf people to run the business which in turn became an entire church community that became self-sustaining. The deaf were able to financially support pastors, elders and leaders and used the hot dog stands as an evangelistic tool, opening the door for God’s message to go out. 

“The deaf seized this business opportunity as a way to share Christ with each other. The gospel expanded really fast through the deaf community. It’s been an awesome privilege to be part of that over the years.”

[1] Names changed for protection

[2] Name changed for protection

[3] Name changed for protection


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