Upstate event for deaf community designed to build relationships, share gospel

Brushy Creek Baptist Church in Taylors will host a weekend event July 14-16 for the state’s deaf community (including parents, families, volunteers, and interested churches).

The event will include entertainment, food, games, and prizes and will communicate the gospel to a people group in which the North American Mission Board suggests only .0009 percent attend an evangelical church.

“We are losing ground in reaching the deaf community,” said Wanda Bridwell, a missions strategy assistant at Greenville Baptist Association and director of Brushy Creek’s deaf ministry. “Just a few years ago, NAMB reported .05 percent of the deaf community attended an evangelical church.”

Bridwell began a life of love for and service to the deaf community when she was 9 years old and her father, an Upstate pastor, introduced her to a deaf girl her own age. The little girl taught Wanda to sign specific words using a Baptist Hymnal. They became lifelong friends.

The vision for July’s Upstate event came through a 2016 mission trip to the Northeast.

In 2015, with financial assistance from the South Carolina Baptist Convention, members of Brushy Creek’s deaf ministry traveled to Manchester, Conn., for the purpose of encouraging Living Hope Deaf Church, (, pastored by Jon Hayhow who is deaf. Hayhow is supported in the local church ministry by his wife, Lori, who serves as his interpreter.

“We enjoyed ministering at Living Hope, but we didn’t see a lot of fruit come from it,” Bridwell said. “Then God revealed himself. While there, we visited the Deaf Museum at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford. We had a chance meeting with the school’s president in a hallway and were able to explain our mission trip to serve Living Hope. He was completely unaware of the church, but the very next Sunday he sent a van with 14 children and adults to Living Hope. We understand that number has increased to the point that a new Deaf Church is being planted about two miles from the school.”

Encouraged by God’s movement, Brushy Creek’s deaf ministry returned to serve Living Hope in 2016 and also traveled to Vermont to encourage a church interested in deaf ministry.

“While we were there, God gave us a greater burden for the deaf community in Greenville,” Bridwell said. “I went to pastor Jon at Living Hope to ask him about coming to Greenville to share his testimony, but before I could ask him, Jon told me that he felt God wanting him to come south to Greenville. We all agreed to pray about the possibilities for 2017, and from that, we are having our July weekend. Jon and Lori are coming to be with us.”

“Jon’s testimony is powerful,” Bridwell said. “It’s a story of forgiveness. Resentment and bitterness within the deaf community are not unusual. Many well-meaning parents have forced deaf children to attend worship services that don’t have a deaf ministry or an interpreter. So these children were forced to sit in silence. They grew up resenting that and don’t go back to church as adults. Some are resentful that parents didn’t learn to sign, and there’s also some workplace discrimination against the deaf.”

“Churches can and should embrace deaf ministry. We should provide resources to help parents and families, and we should encourage and love the deaf community. As believers, we should demonstrate that Christ’s love and the local church are for all people,” Bridwell said.

The event’s planning team is praying for 100 deaf people to attend, and Bridwell knows the goal is high. “We are praying for 100 deaf people to join us for this family-friendly event, to meet and have fun with new friends, and to hear the gospel. We are praying for the unreached deaf to be there, and we know people will hear the gospel in their heart language.”

Churches and individuals interested in the event or in deaf ministry may contact Bridwell at the Greenville Baptist Association at 864-242-4330 or at The Brushy Creek event is open to everyone statewide.

For information on the state convention’s deaf ministry, contact Tim Riceat 803-765-0030 in Columbia.

— Scott Vaughan writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.