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November 2, 2002

Conference helps deaf men grow spiritually

From: Daily Oklahoman, OK
Nov. 2, 2002

By Carla Hinton
The Oklahoman

The Rev. Larry White enjoyed last year's Promise Keepers conference, although the minister didn't hear one word that was said.

The prayers, praise and preaching that rocked the Oklahoma City Christian men's event were communicated to White through his interpreter for the deaf.

Today, White leads a conference where his interpreter won't be needed.

It's the first Deaf Men's Conference that continues today and Sunday at Falls Creek near Davis.

Patterned somewhat after Promise Keepers, but on a smaller scale, White said the event is designed to compel deaf men into a place of spiritual renewal and empower them to become leaders in the home, workplace and church.

"There are not many deaf churches, so the men don't often have the advantage of having fellowship with other deaf men," White said in sign language, as assistant Lissa Bussell interpreted a recent interview.

"This will be more visual -- it's their language, their culture. With the Deaf Men's Conference, we have our voice."

Guest speakers include the Rev. Keith Catron, pastor of the Fresno Deaf Church of Evangelical Free Church in Fresno, Calif, and the Rev. Phillip Easterling, pastor of The Deaf Church at Brooks Hills in Alabama. The Master's Hand, a drama group from Deaf Ministries Worldwide in Sulphur, is set to perform.

The conference, which began Friday, has drawn more than 150 deaf men from across the nation, a surprise for White, who is pastor of the Deaf Church at First Southern Baptist Church of Del City.

He expected the event to be largely regional, attracting men from nearby states such as Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Arizona.

But deaf men have registered from those states and many others, including South Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Nebraska, Missouri and Mississippi.

"I really thought it would be people from around here, but word of mouth -- word of hands -- got out, and it spread all over the United States," White said.

When he looks back on the events that led up to the conference, White said he can understand the deaf community's enthusiasm for it.

He said the idea for the event came up during Promise Keepers 2001, which drew about 14,000 men to downtown Oklahoma City.

He and several other deaf men watched as other deaf men struggled to gain all they could from the conference.

"During that time, we saw deaf men who didn't really understand Promise Keepers through their interpreters," White said.

He said he believes this occurred because interpreters could not keep up with the fast- paced preaching. Also, he said the deaf men at the conference were on different communication levels, and it was easy for some to simply conclude that the conference didn't apply to their life.

Even so, deaf men love to attend Promise Keepers, and no criticism is to be laid at the door of the popular men's movement, White said.

However, "We thought we ought to have something for deaf men in our native language with our music."

White said the possibility of a deaf men's conference was discussed at Promise Keepers.

"We talked about it, dreamed about it, wished about it."

In January, he and two deaf pastors from Texas began planning the conference and were heartened by the positive response they received from deaf men.

"We decided and believed that we needed to keep on pursuing this," White said. "We believed that we needed our deaf men to come together, that deaf men needed to know that Jesus Christ is their Savior."

White said he has been compelled to reach out to other deaf men since God called him into ministry in 1984. He said the conference is another way to convey the message he preaches to about 70 people who attend the Deaf Church at First Southern Baptist each Sunday.

That message is: Don't use your deafness as excuse to fail at life or be a lousy Christian. You can become a strong Christian, a bold Christian because you have God.

And: "You are not alone."

© 2002, Produced by NewsOK