In 2017 two intrepid evangelists from OneTribe Church began visiting university campuses in Nairobi to share the Gospel with students. Taylor Dietmeier and Kerby McKinnell connected with two deaf students on one such outreach and OneTribe church has never been the same again.
The two students (Vincent and Harrison) were invited to attend a Sunday meeting at OneTribe. The church did not have any special facilities in place for deaf attendees at the time. However the guests enjoyed the fellowship and warm welcome they received so much that they continued attending!
Lesson 1: Hospitality matters!
The two gentlemen continued to attend Sunday meetings and began to invite their friends, many of whom were deaf. As the numbers began to grow the sustainability of the situation came into focus. In order to truly integrate a deaf audience into the congregation more needed to be done. Taylor stepped up and began learning Kenyan sign language in order to better interface with the group.
Lesson 2: Build bridges and count the cost yourself
Vincent and Harrison continued to invite friends to church, one of whom was Rose Omollo. Rose’s parents are deaf, though she is not. Naturally Rose has grown up fluent in sign language and well connected to the deaf community. At OneTribe’s invitation Rose quickly got involved in translating on Sundays and facilitating further communication with deaf attendees. She has recently joined the church staff full time, a portion of which is dedicated to further facilitating ministry to the deaf community and raising awareness in OneTribe’s congregation. Rose’s involvement is a profound example of the Lord providing as churches step out in faith.
Lesson 3: The Lord provides as churches step out in faith
Further to this, the church has established a number of special initiatives to better accommodate deaf members. These include reserved seating on a Sunday morning near the front and a dedicated mid-week small group for deaf members. OneTribe also offers sign language classes for congregants, paused during lock down, but restarting soon.
Lesson 4: Change proactively, don’t put the burden of assimilation onto those coming in from outside
The story of OneTribe’s growing contingent of deaf members is an inspiring and challenging example of what it takes to reach communities who are different. In this case the group is hearing-impaired, however it is easy to draw parallels with reaching other groups – whether differentiated by language, impairment or culture.
The evangelistic team visiting campuses reached out in faith no doubt well aware of the practical challenges accompanying their invitation. However the warm welcome by the existing congregation and subsequent effort made to accommodate deaf members has grown this unique group of people to over 20 regular attenders.
The church leadership has been proactive in making changes and interventions to accommodate deaf members. Mbonisi Malaba, lead elder at OneTribe, comments on leading the church through the changes, “First of all, the deaf community has brought so much life and vibrance to the church that it has not been difficult to bring new ideas to the congregation. Secondly, this was not on our strategic plan, we saw God moving and have done our best to get behind His mission to this community. Thirdly, we have made many mistakes along the way, but a culture of grace and faith for one another has allowed God to use us.”.
OneTribe has gone on to launch a financial support program, as well as a job training initiative in partnership with a local coffee company tailored for deaf congregants – for whom employment is a considerable challenge.
While blessed by the warm welcome from OneTribe, the deaf members have subsequently stepped up in their own right, participating in further outreaches to deaf residents in Nairobi and further afield, most recently to the neighbouring city of Nakuru.
It is a superb story of bravery and faithfulness, one befitting the bride of Christ. We commend the members of the deaf community for accepting an invitation into an unfamiliar setting, and similarly commend OneTribe Church for going the extra mile to bring Jesus to an otherwise unreached group in their city!