Joel Eichler never felt totally at home in his congregation growing up because he believed other members "had no use for a deaf young man like me."
So he didn't expect a different reception when he first attended Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, Portland, Ore. But the small congregation, and its pastor, Glenn Chase, surprised him — and they continue to do so.
Chase and others at Mount Carmel have extended their outreach by learning sign language so Eichler can have a more full worship experience.
"My pastor at Mount Carmel knew some sign language, so we could communicate a little," Eichler wrote about Chase. "He invited me to some events and dine-outs. He made me feel like I am a part of the church's family."
Chase never has considered adding sign language as an official ministry. "We didn't start this with saying, 'Let's have sign language for deaf people,' " he said. "We started with saying, 'This is Joel. How can we learn from him and have him learn from us.' It's an ongoing process. I've operated my whole ministry on that there are no coincidences. God's way of remaining anonymous in our lives is what we call coincidences."
At first, Chase was the only person who could sign. Other members expressed an interest, so Eichler began teaching a class. "I was hesitant at first, but after a few weeks thinking about it, I decided to do it," he wrote. "It has gone well. There were nine students to begin with. After 10 weeks, there were only five left. Not as many as I had hoped, but then ours is a small church."
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