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November 21, 2004

Deaf Cafe seeks to reach out with religious message

From: Louisville Courier Journal - Louisville,KY,USA - Nov 21, 2004

By Joseph Gerth
The Courier-Journal

The thump, thump, thump of a bass resonating once a month from a small auditorium at Deer Park Baptist Church might make a street cruiser envious.

But it's not hip-hop pouring from the speakers. It's the sound of about 75 people praising God at the monthly Deaf Cafe, which brings hearing-impaired Christians together for fellowship.

The program, which has spread to three other cities and is about to grow again, is the brainchild of Steve Dye, the pastor and director of the program. He said many deaf people he knew did not attend church regularly.

The Deaf Cafe designs its programs specifically for deaf people.

At last night's meeting at the Louisville Deaf Baptist Church, housed at Deer Park Baptist on Bardstown Road, the group watched a cartoon movie about Moses and participated in songs and skits put on by the Deaf Cafe's 15-member team.

Words to Christian songs appeared on a large screen while team members on the stage used sign language and a choreographed routine to lead the group in song.

The bass boomed loud enough to shake the building's tile-on-concrete floor. "They've got to be able to feel it," said Dye, explaining the need for the pulsating sound.

Those in the audience stood and many of them signed along. Dye, 30, bounced around the crowd, signing to them and trying to get them involved.

"What we do is try to break down barriers between the deaf community and churches," he said.

Bernie Rogers, a member of Southeast Christian Church, said his church attendance has been sporadic in the past, but he attends every Deaf Cafe and said his church attendance has increased since the Deaf Cafe began in June 2003.

"It's an inspiring way of listening to God's word," Rogers said through Kim Sandlin, a sign-language interpreter. "It's motivating, the Christian fellowship. It's just a lot better" than other church services.

Dye, who is deaf and has been involved in deaf ministry for eight years, said he wanted to find a way to inspire deaf people to return to church.

The first service drew 42 people. Now the cafe draws 70 to 90 people each month — most of them hearing impaired but some of them family members and friends, interpreters and University of Louisville students who are learning sign language.

The largest crowd was 161 people at its first anniversary.

The idea is to get young deaf adults involved in religion and then send them out to mainstream churches such as Deer Park Baptist, Valley View Baptist and Southeast Christian, which have deaf ministries and have partnered with the Deaf Cafe.

Dye said he's not sure why young deaf adults don't generally seem enthused about religion — whether it's because many churches don't have signers at services or if the churches just haven't traditionally reached out to them.

The Deaf Cafe focuses on deaf people ages 18 to 40, but older people also take part. It uses music and drama to illustrate biblical stories. Everything is signed so all can understand, Dye said.

The concept has been expanded to Portland, Ore.; Flint, Mich.; and Spartanburg, S.C. Dye said Deaf Cafes are scheduled to open soon in Lexington, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Houston.

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.