In my work for The Company, I labor exclusively among the Deaf. We can discuss the reasons another time.
At any rate, in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti, my boss asked me to join him in a trip to the island. We were planning to look for the Deaf, and to figure out how we could meet their physical and spiritual needs. We found a tent camp filled with about 430 Deaf adults and their children (usually hearing). After visiting with them a while, I had the following exchange in Haitian sign language with about a dozen young Deaf Haitian men.
Deaf : You gotta be careful with hearing folks. You can’t afford to make them angry.
Jeremy: Why not?
D: When they get mad, they don’t do anything. They just wait until night, when it is dark. They go home, and light a candle. They say stuff and summon a spirit. (Others chime in “yeah, yeah, spirits. Or a dead person, they raise the dead.”) When the spirit comes, the hearing people talk to the spirit, telling it what to do. They send the spirit (“or the dead person, yeah”) to your house. The spirit makes you sick, or kills you, or hurts your family. It’s bad, really bad.
J: Do Deaf people do that? Do they call spirits?
D: No, Deaf don’t do that. Deaf can’t talk. You have to talk to the spirit. (the sign used is “talk” not “communicate”) If you can’t talk, you can’t control the spirit or the dead person. See? You have to be able to talk. (Others agree, “Yeah, yeah, if you can’t talk, you can’t even call the spirit.”)
The next day, I had another conversation. In this one, a Deaf man explained to me how a lady’s baby died. The mother was sitting next to us as we talked; she said her 7 month old died without warning, without being sick or having fallen. The man said that the devil likes to drink blood. He comes out at night, smelling to catch the scent of a baby. When he smells it, the devil flies to the baby’s bed, swoops in and drinks all the baby’s blood. That’s how the baby died. In the morning, the mother just assumed her baby was sleeping late. Only after a few hours passed did the mother realize that the baby had died.
While these stories obviously paint a spiritually dark condition, we can safely make a tentative conclusion or strategic suggestion: in selecting the proper Biblical teaching to counter these claims of spiritual power we must consider how the Deaf are likely to apply suggestions that Jesus will protect them.
Let me preface this by admitting I am not an anthropologist, nor a sociologist. As far as I can tell, though, Haiti seems to be a power-seeking culture, a place where the truth of something is secondary to what that something might do for them. While the lordship of Christ is both true and powerful, simply teaching the power of Christ over the demonic risks equating Christian methodology with that of the demonic. In other words, there exists the possibility that the Deaf will invoke or summon the power of God in order to combat the power of evil. This reduces Christ to something that serves at our calling while also lowering Christ to the level of the demonic; another force in nature. It also removes from the equation the notion of a personal relationship with God. Once humanity’s connection with demons is unfortunately linked to humanity’s connection with Christ, so too will the impersonal nature of demons be linked to an assumed impersonal nature of Christ. As well, simply denying the power of demons over Christians due to the power of Christ will risk the creation of a dualistic theology or a syncretic view of Christianity.
What can I teach them? How do I help them understand?