I don't need this microphone in front of me. I'm not using my voice, but you hear a woman speaking, who’s my wife, and she will speak and be my voice for me this morning.
My sermon is entitled Walking in Faith, how the Lord has led my life. Just as each one of you has a story, I want to share mine this morning. Let us pray. Our Father in Heaven, thank You Lord for Your love, and I pray that You will use me to send a message of Your mercy. In Jesus name, amen.
In 1990 I received a letter from Union College, in Nebraska. I wanted to enroll at Union to study religion. I wanted to become a pastor for the deaf. I was hoping this letter was a letter that I was waiting for to accept me. It did accept me, but said, “You know, in Adventist churches, there are only three workers in North America for the deaf. The chance of you getting a job after you graduate is very small.” Well my perspective was, three isn't enough. There are many deaf people who need to hear the gospel of God's love. That letter, I did not know what to do. What did God want for my life? I wasn't sure. Maybe you have faced similar obstacles. Not sure where the Lord wants you or the frustrations you may have or discouragements that you have faced or are facing.
I want to take you back with me to when I was born. My parents, my family, all hearing, and here they had a beautiful boy, perfect, and they were so happy. But my parents did not know that I was deaf, and that I was born deaf, and what the cause was. My mother was healthy. I was healthy. They did not realize until around 1 or 2, my parents noticed that sometimes I would respond and other times I would not. They took me to a doctor to see if there might be anything the matter. “Oh, he is just fine.” Well, they took me then to another doctor, this time an audiologist. I was about 2, and he tested my hearing and this is when they found that I was profoundly deaf. My parents were very, very down. Denial. It was a very hard time, as my mother recalls her memories to me, how hard it was for them to accept this. I was fortunate that they did learn how to sign and that we could communicate after that.
But this, my mother thought that she didn't have enough faith, but that if she had more faith that I would be healed. We called the pastor and the elders and they prayed over me. God did not answer her prayer. I know why. He had a better reason for me, and at that time my mother did not know, “Why is my son still deaf?” And now as the years have passed, I believe it is because God wants to use me to reach people for Him. Obstacles that come in our life we don't understand, often, until later, that we can look back or maybe never until heaven, but we see as long as we trust God, He will lead you in the right path. I know it's because He wanted to use me in this work for Him.
As I grew up I went to church with my family. We were Seventh-day Adventists. I had not anyone though, to communicate what was going on, but there was a lady who lived right next to the church who was an interpreter and she volunteered to interpret for me. I was about 10 years old, and because of her I really believe that was why I was ready at the age of 13 to be baptized.
I went to a deaf residential school in Fremont, California. It's a high school. I was not used to that special school because I had been in a school where it was, you know, mainstreamed with other hearing students, and it was very lonely, but this was the first time I was with people just like me. Signing. Teachers who signed. Some hearing, some deaf, but they all were proficient. Counselors who could communicate with me. Oh, it opened my world. I was now a majority. I had always been a minority. Left out, and finally I was with others just like me.
But I noticed in high school there were different religious groups that would meet. There were Mormon deaf people. Catholic. Baptist. But where was there another Seventh-day Adventist? I was the only one. I imagined I was the only one in the world that was a Seventh-day Adventist deaf person.
One day, the dean of students motioned me to come visit him in his office. What would I need to be in the Dean's office for? I wasn't in trouble. I was a good student. I was very nervous, but I went to his office and asked him, “You wanted to see me?” “Yes, there's someone here who wants to see you.” And in his office was a man who was six-one and thin and a big smile on his face and he signed to me, “I am pastor Fred Griffith. I'm a deaf pastor for Seventh-day Adventists.” Aww, you mean there are Adventist deaf people. Oh, my world was even more broadened. You need to know that pastor Fred Griffith is a hearing gentleman and his parents were deaf. His father was the first Adventist deaf pastor in North America. He was the first ordained pastor. I am the sixth ordained deaf pastor. I was ordained 2001 here at camp meeting. Here though, my world was broadened. I wasn't the only one.
I graduated from high school and went to the California State University in Northridge. And they had there the Adventist church just a few blocks down the road. There were a few deaf members, and we had an interpreter who would sign and we would have our own Sabbath School and then we would come in with the hearing and worship together. And for one year that went on and then the interpreter moved, and here we were without anybody. What were we going to do? How do we receive the message? This was a time of great discouragement for me, and I decided to quit going to church. I stopped. Maybe some of you have felt discouragement and have maybe not wanted to come to church either. Maybe today is your first day back. God has a plan for every one of us and we should not neglect or leave Him, even though we don't always understand it.
As I was looking, in my minds eye, thinking about North America, there are about 25 million hearing impaired people. Hearing impaired would also include, hard of hearing or those later in life who have lost their hearing. So, that number would include those. Not all that would use sign language, maybe. Those who were profoundly deaf, and even some hard of hearing people who sign, about 2 million. Worldwide there is no known number, but estimates are between 75 to a hundred million deaf people. This is not hearing-impaired, okay. This is deaf people. I have traveled to India twice on mission trips giving evangelistic meetings with wonderful baptisms, and the number of deaf in India was astounding. 19 million deaf people in India alone. We have 5 Adventist deaf churches in India. Praise the Lord. We're really excited about this work.
But this to me showed the great need to reach this special people. When I look at the cross and Jesus giving His life for all of us, His love is so great, to die, that He wants to save each one. That Jesus came seeking the lost. That impressed me so much about His love. But what about the deaf? The deaf need to know about His love. They need to know about the cross and His sacrifice. They need to be saved too.
That was when I became impressed. I know the Holy Spirit was talking to me. “Lord, maybe it isn't me who needs to sit back waiting for somebody else to take it over. Waiting for an interpreter before I come back to church. Lord, maybe You want me to lead. You want me to teach. Okay. Well that's something that I can do.” So I decided I would go back to church, and I got my deaf friends together and said, “Let's meet again. We can do it. We can study the lesson together.” Sometimes I would preach, and other times we would meet with other deaf groups in Southern California all throughout the region who also were lonely and isolated, and we lay would just lead together, and that is how I became involved with the work.
With this letter now, in 1990, you know, here I was leading and I wanted to have more training, but I felt this was an obstacle. It wasn't a real encouraging letter. What would you have done? Well, I needed to pray. When we’re frustrated and discouraged we all should pray. Prayer should be the first thing that we do in any of our circumstances, and I prayed and I prayed, and I talked with my family, my pastor. Should I go? But I just felt, for some reason, though this letter accepted me, that the doors were not really open. I decided to stay and finish school. I have to admit, that was a time I really did not understand.
But God knew, and here were 2 big reasons why. His plan was better. The first 1. After I rejected the letter and decided to just stay, I continued to go to church. One Sabbath morning 2 lovely ladies came to our church from North Carolina. They were sisters, and they moved to California to become interpreters. Well they had already had a degree and they wanted to get more schooling, and one of those, I married. My wife Melissa. God knew I needed to wait. Now we make a wonderful team, and when I preach to hearing people she voices for me, as well as a lot of other ways that she's involved. But that is the number 1. And reason number 2, I will get back to later.
When I graduated from Cal State, Northridge, I got a job teaching American Sign Language at 2 community colleges in Ventura and Oxnard. I enjoyed that and for 2 years I taught college students sign language, but my heart was still pressed to do the work for the Lord.
Let us turn please, Matthew 28. I want to share this verse again. Our scripture. Matthew 28, verses 19 and 20. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded, and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” I want you to look at the word ‘nations’. What does the word ‘nations’ mean to you? Many people think of countries. Well, yes, but the Greek word for ‘nations’ is ‘ethnos’. ‘Ethnos’ means ‘people group’. People group. Each people group has two things. A culture and a language. Each people group must have both things. A culture and a language.
In North America, there are many Native Americans. Right? Many tribes. 2 examples. Here we know the Cherokee. Natives here to this area. If you go West, Arizona area, the Navajo Indians. Both are Native Americans. They live in the U.S., or the Americas, and yet the Cherokee have their own language. Right? Their own culture. Right? If we look at the Navajo, they also have their own language and their own culture. These 2, are they the same? Do they have the same language? No, it's different. Is it the same culture? No. Different culture. Jesus meant that we were to reach every people group. To reach the Cherokee and their special people group. The Navajo and their special people group. The gospel is to be reached to all the people groups in the world.
Now I ask you. Are the deaf a people group? Do they have their own language? Yes. It is not the same as spoken English. Sign language is different. Do they have their own culture? Yes. We have our own customs. Just as hearing people do, and 1 that I notice the most. Hearing people who come to our deaf churches and visit, notice that when church is over most people are ready to leave, but the deaf stay and they talk, and they talk, and they visit, and we’re always the last to leave. That's just part of our culture. Jesus said to go and reach the deaf people group. The deaf need to know of Him.
And another verse that also spoke to me was Romans 10, 14 and 15. Romans 10, 14 and 15. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how will they preach unless they have been sent?” How can a deaf person hear the gospel of Jesus? How can a deaf person receive the three angels message? Someone must be sent to them. That is such an impressive text for me, that I really felt led to be called to ministry full-time. But I didn't know where and I did not know how. But God had the answer waiting for me.
My brother had a friend who was a pastor visiting me, and he said, "Why don't you start a church for the deaf?" “Me? I do not feel I have enough training. I am not ready.” “Okay, why don't you go to Andrews University, to the seminary.” I never thought about that. He contacted the seminary. They sent information. I filled out an application and in two months I was accepted, doors were opened, and we were moving to Michigan. We had just married, only four months, and we were on our way to the seminary where I studied in the M.Div. program. I was able with my teaching degree to teach deaf studies at Andrews, while I was there. He wanted me to stay and finish at Cal State to get a degree so that I also would be used in teaching deaf ministry later. Here the Lord was using, again, me in His plan. And we finished there. I stayed on. My wife interpreted. The university paid her as well as another lady who interpreted. They took turns in sharing the classes. I graduated December of 1996.
But where was my job? How is it that the Lord led me this far to leave me in Michigan? “Where are Your plans for me Lord?” We prayed and we sent resumes to Conferences. But no one had the money for a special ministry. And 6 months we waited. Then, finally, the Georgia Cumberland Conference welcomed us to plant a deaf church in Atlanta. Oh, we were so excited. He led. We entered Atlanta with no known Adventist deaf, and we started from scratch. Hard groundwork. Just meeting with deaf people and making friends.
Maybe you feel, in your life, obstacles, and when you do, you must pray that the Lord will lead you through it and not allow you to be overcome with despair and discouragement. Have faith that He will lead you. He has a plan for everyone.
I started in Atlanta. 2 years later I had evangelistic meetings, and we had 10 to 20 deaf people coming, and we baptized 2. We praised the Lord for those 2 deaf people. We were so excited. And we worked from 2, and 4 years later, we grew to 12. The work seemed slow and hard, but in 2005, April 9, the church became an official organized church. The Southern Deaf Fellowship of Seventh-day Adventists with 34 charter members. And the church continues to grow. We now have 42 members. Ever since, all my life, in trusting, following, walking in faith, following where He leads.
Most recently, the conference called our church to move here at the Collegedale area. Our main reason is because of our internet ministry. I'm so thankful to all of you, to this church, McDonald Road, that has a place for us to meet. That we have been starting to stream our services. We’ve been so thankful for Dean Saunders and all of his help with the technical, the wiring. We have been working through the bugs and now we will be ready, starting next week, to stream live, every Sabbath, our services on the Internet. We praise the Lord for that.
And most recently, Southern Adventist University approved a Deaf Studies minor. We’ve offered ASL, American Sign Language 1 and 2, 3 and 4 and this is the fourth year that I have been teaching, but now they have included a minor in Deaf Studies. We just believe that this area and the people that we can reach and the students and those who are eager to want to be involved with the deaf work, that this is where God wants us. And when we stream our services, our members are all spread throughout the Southern Union. We have members all over. In Florida, Tennessee, in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina. All throughout. And there are no borders. We have even members who are coming from California who want to be a part of our church. Please pray for this work
And I want to close with Proverbs 3:5 and 6. Proverbs 3:5 and 6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” He wants you to surrender to Him. Maybe you have gotten off track. Maybe this is the first time you've been to church. He wants you to follow Him. Surrender your life and your heart. Even though you don't understand, He will, as He led me in my life. I want to be an encouragement to you. That you surrender your life to Him. But to do things our own way, how we think it should go, never leads to happiness. He leads to happiness and He will lead you. Surrender your heart and give it to Him this new year, to lead you. Will you do that? Even in your struggles, you can find any of the pastors here, Pastor Cook and Pastor Carlson and Pastor Gettys, they're all here to help you.
Our loving heavenly Father. Thank you Lord, that each one here surrender all. Please, I pray that You’d forgive each one. Those who may have strayed, those who are struggling. Lord, come into all of our hearts. We give our hearts to You. Lead us in the path that You have for each one. That we depend wholly on You, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #100, Great Is Thy Faithfulness Scripture: Matthew 28:19,20 Hymn of Response: #309, I Surrender All
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 1/15/09