A leading mission organization is creating a space for deaf teens nationwide to encounter God, build their faith, and develop meaningful relationships.
Since 2000, Youth for Christ's Deaf Teen Quest has been helping deaf and hard-of-hearing teens discover God's love in the midst of the challenges they face.
"I had a deaf kid ask me once, 'Does God know sign language?' It broke my heart. I told him, 'God has complete knowledge of everything about you — your heart, your soul, your mind, your spirit. He purposely designed you just the way you are,'" said Matthew Belwood, National Director at YFC's Deaf Teen Quest.
"Deafness is not an accident or disability," he added.
Roughly 1.7 children born out of every 1,000 have an identifiable hearing loss at birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This translates to a significant population of young people that use American Sign Language and other accommodations to gain communication access with the world.
Those who live in the deaf world have a long and rich history as a linguistic and cultural group to create a community of like-minded individuals who see the world through a unique lens.
However, there is a challenge to making these same meaningful connections to the wider hearing world.
"Primarily as a result of educational mainstreaming many are widely scattered and relationally isolated due to communication barriers. In fact, eight out of ten deaf young people live in families who do not use sign language," reads a statement from DTQ's YouTube Page.
"The problem is not deafness," Belwood explained. "The problem is the disconnect from the world. The majority of the world doesn't speak their language. So many deaf or hard of hearing kids live in a family with hearing parents or siblings. Imagine living in a house with people who speak an entirely different language most of the time."
YFC's Deaf Teen Quest connects these teens with Christian role models who want them to uncover God's story of hope in their lives.
"Many people ask, 'Why don't you have deaf kids go to other ministry outreaches or just go to a hearing camp and do hearing stuff? They're regular kids — they just can't hear.' I think that that actually makes sense on the surface," Belwood explained. "But there's so much more to the deaf experience."
"Deaf people experience the world in an entirely different way than hearing people. On a biological level, deaf people use different parts of their brain to communicate than hearing people. They don't just think like a hearing kid would think who had their hearing turned off. Deaf people are a very specifically designed people group that have a very specific way of processing the world," he added.
Since 2001, YFC's Deaf Teen Quest has held a yearly week-long summer camp. Camp staff learn sign language and teens interact freely with their peers and enjoy a week without limits.
"It's the one week a year that communication barriers don't exist. By providing a safe space that celebrates exactly how God made them, many deaf kids feel more comfortable to open up and seek Christ," Belwood added.
YFC's Deaf Teen Quest is looking to build a community for deaf teens in other countries. They recently launched a Deaf Teen Quest in Egypt.
"Exodus 4:11 makes it clear that God designed us exactly as we are on purpose," Belwood expressed. "By providing a place for deaf and hard of hearing kids to come and be surrounded by other people just like them, they feel seen and understood at a deeper level."