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September 8, 2003

Church reaches out to deaf

From: The Argus, CA - Sept 8, 2003

Mission Springs adds a pastor By Melissa Evans, STAFF WRITER FREMONT -- Brittany and Brianna Dike are very much ingrained in a tight-knit culture defined by silence. At home and at school, they are surrounded by their deaf peers.

At church, it's another story.

Their mother, Barbie, brought her 5- and 9-year-old daughters to the predominantly hearing Mission Springs Church about a year ago. It seemed the safest place, she said, for her daughters to gain exposure to a world in which they must function when they leave the security of Fremont's California School for the Deaf.

"They already have plenty of exposure to the deaf world," Barbie Dike signed through an interpreter.

At the time, the Dikes joined two other families with deaf members. The church already had an interpreter who stood beside Pastor Rob Peterson during Sunday sermons.

These days -- with 30 deaf members out of about 120 -- the church does better than that. The church has eight interpreters who attend Sunday school, Bible studies and other church activities. Many hearing members have taken American Sign Language classes offered by the church. Music during worship is bolstered with bass so that deaf members can feel the music without hearing it.

And on Sunday, the church introduced its new associate pastor of deaf ministries, David Fair, whose salary will be paid by a $30,000 grant the church received from the Mill Neck Foundation for Deaf Ministry.

"I found that a hearing pastor could not be as effective in ministering to deaf members," Peterson said.

All-deaf churches do exist, particularly in the Tri-City area, which is home to one of the nation's largest deaf schools.

But Fair, Dike and others say it is crucial for deaf people to blend with the outside world.

Fair, who has worked in mostly deaf congregations for the last 20 years, hopes to encourage deaf members at Mission Springs to gain more confidence.

"Both (hearing and deaf) people have gifts and talents to contribute," he signed through an interpreter. "Through stewardship, I want deaf members to take ownership for their church, to feel like 'This is my church.'"

The first deaf member of Mission Springs was a teenager named Damian who had been adopted by hearing parents, Lisa and Greg Hansen. When the church hired an interpreter, he finally could sit with other high schoolers involved in the church's Quest program instead of next to his mother.

The family has left the church, but the ministry has continued to grow.

The transition has been surprisingly easy, some members say.

Many of the church members already knew sign language and were familiar with the culture, said Kim Meierotto, who has attended Mission Springs for 17 years.

"I don't think (including deaf members) changed our mission in any way," she said. "They just broadened it."

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