Sunday, July 19, 2015

Can Deaf People Serve LDS Missions?

Recently, I received a Facebook message from an LDS Bishop serving somewhere in Europe. He contacted me asking me if a Deaf member in his ward can serve a mission.
People with a hearing loss of any kind CAN serve a mission. I am hard of hearing and I served as an American Sign Language (ASL) missionary in the New York Rochester mission. 
However, just because someone has a hearing loss doesn't mean that they will serve as a Sign Language missionary. There are many Deaf and Hard of Hearing missionaries who have served in other countries and have learned to speak other languages. 
Sometimes, an individual with a hearing loss will be called to serve in their own country but will serve a foreign speaking mission. For example, I know of one Deaf missionary who has been called to serve in the United States and to preach among those who speak Mandarin. A lot of us were surprised when she was called to a Mandarin speaking mission because we all expected her to serve as a Sign Language missionary.
Given that there isn't a whole lot of information for branch presidents, bishops and stake presidents located outside (and inside) of the United States to review, I've decided to compile information to help people understand that any worthy young adult who is Deaf or Hard of Hearing can serve an LDS mission.
Can A Deaf Young Adult Serve On A LDS Mission?

Any Deaf individual who wishes to serve a mission can serve a mission just like any other young adult who desires to serve. A Deaf person must go through the same process of going on a mission by first meeting with their bishop or branch president. The ecclesiastical leader such as a will give the young Deaf man or woman access to the Missionary Online Recommendation system. 
 How Does a Deaf Individual Prepare To Serve A Mission? 
A Deaf or Hard of Hearing individual must prepare for a mission just like any other young man or woman will. They must prepare spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially. 
Spiritual Preparation

Spiritual preparation means that they should be studying the scriptures and from Preach My Gospel prior to serving a mission. They should be engaged in serving others. They should be attending all of their classes at Church and actively participating in those classes. Be aware that The Church does have materials and resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in American Sign Language but they do not have resources and materials for sign languages in other countries. Perhaps someday in the future, there will be materials created for people who speak sign languages in other countries. 
If possible, have the Deaf or Hard of Hearing youth work with the Sign Language missionaries in your area. If there are no Sign Language missionaries in the area, reach out to the Mission President and ask him to prayerfully select two missionaries who are willing to work with the individual in sharing the gospel.
If you know of a member in your branch, ward or stake who knows sign language, they can work with the youth in learning the gospel. Most Deaf individuals need extra preparation in learning the gospel because they are often not taught the gospel in their first language which is Sign Language.  Deaf people can also watch Church videos that are captioned in their native language of their country. 
Finally, be aware that some Deaf people will receive extra doctrinal preparation in the MTC from those who have already served Sign Language missions and are fluent in Sign Language. 
Personal Worthiness

They should be able to meet the personal worthiness standards requirements to serve a full time  mission because in order to share the gospel, they must  have the Holy Spirit with them. (see D&C 42:14). If there are any unresolved issues that they need to inform their ecclesiastical leader about, they should be encouraged and supported in meeting with their local Church leaders.  
Physical Preparation 

A missionary can be physically prepared for a mission by exercising everyday. Most missionaries walk or ride bikes every day for long periods of time. A missionary must be able to walk an average of six miles (10 km) per day and ride a bicycle 12 miles (19 km) per day. The best way to prepare is to walk or ride a bike everyday. They can also go to a gym and work out. 
However, most ASL missionaries in the United States are assigned cars because Deaf people do not live in close proximity to each other. Thus, they will spend a many hours driving around the city or country side. Yet, being physically in shape is essential when serving as a sign language missionary. 
Emotional Preparation 

It is hard to be emotionally and mentally prepared to serve a mission. Most missionaries work long hours everyday without financial compensation. A typical missionary day begins by waking at 6:30 a.m. for personal study. The day is spent proselytizing by following up on appointments, visiting homes or meeting people in the street or other public places. Missionaries end their day by 10:30 p.m. In addition to working long hours, they must deal with stress, rejection, living in a new area and meeting strangers and working with another missionary. 
Missionaries will have to learn to how to deal with limited contact with friends and family. They are limited to letters and emails and occasional phone calls to family at special times. They must cope with having their social life drastically reduced since they will spend most of their time teaching the gospel or serving others. They cannot use social media or play on computer games during their time on a mission. They are also expected to know that a mission is not a time to date other people or develop romantic relationships. They are expected to work for Heavenly Father. 
There are specific and unique hardships that ASL missionaries will face. They will have to deal with other missionaries and Mission Presidents who do not understand how to properly proselyte among the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Mission Presidents are not prepared in the MTC of how to lead Sign Language missionaries or how Sign Language missionaries proselyte. 
They will have to confront missionaries who might be unkind or rude towards missionaries with a hearing loss. I have experienced this many times on my mission. I know that other Deaf missionaries have experienced this as well.
Sometimes missionaries will get angry that the ASL missionaries are in their area teaching Deaf people. They insist that THEY should be teaching Deaf investigators because they live in THEIR area. I have to make it clear to many missionaries on many occasions on my mission that my companion and I are called to preach to the Deaf and our coverage area is not limited to any area within the mission. 
Those who will be serving a Sign Language mission will have to prepare to preach the gospel to people who are Deaf and Blind or have other disabilities other than a hearing loss. Sometimes, missionaries don't have the resources and materials they need to share the gospel and will have to be creative in how they teach investigators. Many Deaf people have other unique challenges such as poor education or difficulty reading because English (or the native language of that country) is not their first language. 
Since Deaf people rely heavily on technology such as email, Facebook, Videophone, and TTYs to communicate with one another, Sign Language missionaries must rely on communication technology to connect with Deaf members and investigators. During my mission, it was really frustrating that we could not use these technologies as part of our missionary work. 
Financial Preparation

Like any other young individual, Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals should also prepare financially for a mission by finding a way to earn and save money for their mission. They can also prepare by paying tithing.
What If a Deaf Person is Not Eligible to Serve a LDS Mission?

A Deaf or Hearing who desires to serve a mission but cannot serve a full time mission can still serve as a Young Church-Service Missionary. If you feel that it would be better for them to serve as a youth service missionary, they must meet the following requirements:
Be worthy to hold a temple recommend.
Meet the standard mission age requirements (18-25 for young men, 19-25 for young women).
Be honorably excused from a full-time proselyting mission (applies to young men only).
Be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to fulfill the specific call and its related duties.
Provide their own transportation.
Be responsible for their own financial support, including living expenses and insurance.
Be responsible for their own medical and dental needs, including eye care and prescription drug expenses.
Be endorsed by bishop and stake president.
If you have questions about Church Service Missions, you can contact the Church Service Mission Office.

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