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February 21, 2004

Called to serve deaf

From: Akron Beacon Journal - Akron,OH,USA - Feb 21, 2004

Pastor, family move to Akron on leap of faith, say God has provided

By Colette M. Jenkins

Beacon Journal religion writer

The first time the Rev. Douglas Knapp visited Calvary Church of the Deaf, he knew he was supposed to be pastor.

But he wasn't sure how the small church, which attracts about 25 people on Sundays, could support a family of five -- Knapp, his wife, Donya and their three children -- Hannah, 4, Josiah, 2, and Mikaela, 10 months.

''It was a leap of faith. We knew the pay would be limited,'' said Knapp, 35. ''But God made it clear that this is where we're supposed to be and God has reassured us several times.''

The day before Knapp was scheduled to leave the Fort Worth area to come to Akron to find and secure housing for his family, he was reassured.

''I had lost my job as a contract laborer and our money was running out. There was less than $300 in the bank and the bills hadn't been paid,'' Knapp said.

''We hadn't bought diapers. Food was running low and I had to come to Akron and find and secure housing and put the utilities in our name.''

As Knapp stood in church, a man tapped on his shoulder, said ''God wants me to bless you,'' and handed him a check. When Knapp looked at the amount -- $2,500 -- he was stunned. The man had gone and the check had a company name on it.

''It was a large church and I didn't even know who the man was. I had to ask who he was to thank him,'' Knapp said. ''That was enough to take care of everything for the move.''

Before leaving Texas, Knapp asked Hannah what kind of house she wanted to live in. She replied ''a yellow and brown house.''

As Knapp searched for a house, he kept coming up empty-handed. Then, a phone call came to the home of the minister with whom he was staying. On the phone was a woman who wanted Knapp to look at a house in North Hill.

When Knapp arrived at the address, he immediately knew he could not afford the house. The woman, who was the owner, said ''I know you're a minister and I'll work with you.''

As Knapp was about to sign the papers to rent the house, he remembered what his daughter said and thought ''the house is yellow and brown.''

''God reassures us through little things,'' Knapp said. ''I've never doubted this is where I'm supposed to be.''

Knapp began serving the Assembly of God church for the deaf in August. Since then, he has been working to rebuild the congregation, which had been without a pastor for about nine months.

Calvary's founding pastor, the Rev. John Sederwall, retired in October 2001 after 31 years. He was replaced by the Rev. Anthony Callies, who stayed at the church for nearly a year.

Like Sederwall, Knapp is a hearing pastor who conducts services and delivers sermons using voice and sign language. The New Jersey native said he spent years running from the calling of God to be a minister.

''We all think we know what we want to do,'' Knapp said. ''I thought I had my life figured out and I could work God in on the side.''

Called by God

Knapp spent three semesters at a community college in New Jersey with plans to work in broadcast as a videographer. Then he transferred to a community college in Missouri, where he pursued social work. Still, he was not satisfied, so he took two years off and worked different jobs while voluntarily working in youth ministry.

While working with young people, he realized that his mission in life was to minister to people. His next step was to enroll at Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., where he earned his associate degree in deaf ministry and his undergraduate degree in Bible.

It was at Central that he met his wife, who has an undergraduate degree in deaf ministry.

After his graduation, Knapp served as a youth pastor and ran a youth center in the Catskill Mountains for a year and a half. The family then moved to Fort Worth, where Knapp worked with Metro ministries, an inner-city children's ministry.

In June, he was appointed pastor at Calvary by the Ohio District of the Assemblies of God church.

Calvary is one of four Assemblies of God congregations for the deaf in Ohio that have their own buildings. The local church is made up of deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing people.

Enriching experiment

Donna and Joe Hull began attending Calvary about five years ago with their two sons -- Korrey, 15, and Cody, 13, who is deaf. Cody's brother and parents are hearing. The Rootstown family said the experience has been enriching.

''Cody lives in our hearing world and he was missing so much when we attend a hearing church,'' Donna Hull said. ''Now, Cody is part of a world with deaf people and it gives Korrey a chance to see that world.''

The Hulls said they have been encouraged by Knapp's enthusiasm and his commitment to making the church grow.

''The doors are always open at Calvary, for the hearing and the deaf. It is open to the young and old,'' Joe Hull said. ''The congregation is warm and friendly. Everybody embraces you.''

Sunday school begins at 9:30 a.m. and worship services at 10:45 a.m. each Sunday. Bible study is at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. The church is at 745 Upson St.

© 2004 Beacon Journal and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.