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The Powerful Language the Deaf Can Hear

By Joani Schultz

Last month LOVE spoke to me.

And surprise.

I heard love lived out loud in the silent world of those who can’t hear: The deaf.

Recently, my husband Thom and I led a Lifetree Adventure serving the deaf in the Philippines. Ten eager, servant-hearted people of all ages joined us to lead VBS with over 50 deaf schoolchildren on the island of Bohol. We also painted these kids’ new dorm working alongside a skilled, deaf construction crew.

Thom Construction

That described what happened on the outside; here’s what happened on the inside:

My heart stirred when the grateful school principal addressed us. She’d just seen our team lavish the kids with Jesus’ love—plus lots of hugs. She said, “Thank you. Thank you. Love is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

How can that be? How can the deaf hear love?

Maybe it’s because…


One family on our trip certainly exemplified intentionality. Five of our travelers included Jackie’s family. She’s a mom who’s made it a priority to involve her family in a life of service. In fact, her son Adam served on a Lifetree Adventure seven years ago—and he was only seven at the time! Wow! That told me we’re never too young—or too old—to show love to others. God loves it when we love on purpose.

Another intentionality came each night when we gathered together to report our God Sightings. Our crammed-with-distractions lives typically keep us from stopping long enough to see love in action. In other words, we miss God in action.  What a gift to pause long enough each day to tell each other what we saw God doing. We can share God Sightings and make it a part of our vocabulary and regular schedule. Anywhere. Anytime.

 “God is love” (1 John 4:8).


Everyone serving on our Lifetree Adventure received so much love.

Here’s the mystery, the wonder, and the gift of love: When we set out to serve and give, surprise! We get love.

It doesn’t work that way, though, if we’re judgmental, believe we’re better than others, or plan to “fix” someone. Love thrives in mutual respect.

We came to the Philippines to teach kids Bible stories and Jesus’ love. And we did that. Erin organized our team and involved everyone in leading the deaf children in Bible teaching and fun activities. Yet, what I witnessed was how the deaf children taught US! Suddenly, they were the “experts,” the ones who knew sign language. They were the ones who communicated the alphabet and gave us each our “sign name.”

(The older kids gave us all a special sign name. They decided that Joani stood for a pinky finger curved into letter “J” that squiggled by my head to represent my naturally curly hair. Too funny!)

On our last day, we reviewed VBS Bible points as the children enthusiastically signed “Follow Him” for each. They robustly “sang” along with the music videos.

So I thought we were done. But no!

They had a gift for US! The teachers had created a musical photo montage of our week with the kids, gave us each a page of photo memories, and each class of deaf children danced and signed a special song to thank us. The whole experience surprised us. We weren’t expecting anything in return. So their gratitude brought tears to us all.  We turned to puddles of mush! And to touch me even more, one of the older deaf boys saw my tears, looked in my eyes, and sweetly tapped my shoulder as if to say, “It’s okay. We really love you.”

One of my co-workers once said, “Tears leak out so your head doesn’t explode.” Okay, maybe my head wasn’t exploding, but my heart was…


Our trip was possible only because of the vision and perseverance of Dennis Drake, the founder of IDEA (International Deaf Education Association).

Dennis amazes us. (I like to say he’s the “Mother Teresa of the Philippines.”) For over 30 years, he’s poured his passion into serving the deaf in the Philippines. He’s built and staffed deaf schools across the islands; he’s launched over nine businesses to employ the deaf; he’s provided housing for deaf neighborhoods; he’s offered housing to islanders after devastating earthquakes and typhoons. The hotel we stayed in was even built and staffed by the deaf! Imagine the building, its furniture, landscaping, cooks, waiters, housekeepers, all made possible because of the deaf. Plus the proceeds from guests help fund the deaf schools. It’s one of the most inspiring, self-sustaining examples of entrepreneurship—combined with God’s love—that we’ve seen.

I put Dennis’ story in the category of “Love gives fearlessly.” That’s because his efforts haven’t happened without plenty of failures and hardship. He’s driven by a deep sense of purpose and love—and fearlessness.

We witnessed a bittersweet example. Dennis drove us through the dirt back roads of the island to a home where Peddi lives. A few months earlier, Dennis had discovered this wild-haired, 50-ish mute man who was raised by his aunties since his parents died.  About 30 years ago, an American had gone there and asked Peddi’s mom if she’d bring her son to the deaf school. But Peddi’s mom was filled with fear for herself and her son, and thus declined to send him to school.

(By the way, Dennis realized that the American 30+ years ago was HIM!)

To his surprise, a few houses away, a different family had courageously agreed to send their deaf daughter to his school. Today she holds a job and financially supports her hearing family. A stark contrast between fearful and fearless.

Needless to say, I could share mountains of stories from our trip. I’m still moved by the principal’s words:

“Love is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

May God bless you with experiences to hear how LOVE gives intentionally, mutually, and fearlessly.

(By the way, we’d LOVE to have you join one of our Lifetree Adventures. The experience is amazing! I can’t stop talking about it!)



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The Powerful Language the Deaf Can Hear

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