Church for deaf marks 90th year
By Flori Meeks
January 27, 2014
Attitudes about ministries for deaf people have changed considerably since Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church was founded in 1924.
"For many years, the deaf ministry was treated as a mission to handicapped people," said the Rev. Arthur Craig, senior pastor. "Over time it became more of a language mission or a cultural mission."
The church, based since 1986 at 9920 Long Point, will look back at the changes it has seen over the years when it hosts its 90th anniversary celebration Feb. 1-2.
The activities will begin with an open house at 1 p.m. Feb. 1, followed by a banquet and special service.
The Feb. 2 morning service at 11 a.m. will feature a guest preacher and special music, followed by a dedication of the church's newly renovated children's wing and announcements about renovation plans for the worship center.
Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church, which includes deaf and hearing members, is a mission church of Houston's First Baptist Church, said Craig, 66.
Its history is intertwined with the story of a 12-year-old girl.
"Lillian Beard was adopted by deaf parents," Craig said "They moved to Houston from Fort Worth."
Beard started attending Houston's First Baptist Church with her mother and translating the sermons into sign language for her.
From there, Beard started interpreting a Sunday School class for the deaf.
"She was there all through her growing-up years," said Craig, who is not deaf. "At times they had as many as 130 to 140 people in the class.
"Miss Lillian kind of wrote the book on church interpreting," Craig said. "She wrote the book on interpreting the worship music, too."
The ministry gradually grew into a full church program with its own pastoral staff. Craig became its pastor in 1983.
In 1986, the church for the deaf moved from Houston's First Baptist to Spring Branch, where it merged with Woodhaven Baptist Church.
"Miss Lillian continued to be active with it, "Craig said. "She became quite famous worldwide."
The services at Woodhaven, which have an average weekly attendance of about 125, are presented in American Sign Language with voice interpretation for people who can hear.
"It's just the opposite of a hearing church with a deaf ministry," Craig said. "We're a deaf church with a hearing ministry."
The church sends missionary teams to Africa, Ukraine and Russia, where they equip people to offer deaf ministries.
It has a prison ministry, along with a ministry for deaf men who've recently been released from prison.
Woodhaven also presents annual Christmas dramas about the life of Christ.
Like the church services, the dramas are presented in American Sign Language with voice interpretations.
The Rev. Jim Dermon, associate pastor, said he's been inspired by the church's impact on the community.
Dermon, 69, who is deaf, joined the church 21 years ago and became an assistant pastor 20 years ago.
"In the beginning, I was involved in a lot of missionary work in Ukraine and Russia," he said.
"That changed my life. The language and culture were different, but God was still able to help me make a difference."
One of his greatest inspirations, however, was the opportunity to get to know Beard. He met her during the church's 70th anniversary celebration in 1994.
"There was an instant connection," Dermon said.
About five years after their initial meeting, Beard asked Dermon to help her bring food to her family, which had gathered in support of her dying father.
While Dermon was with the family, Beard asked him to lead a prayer and ask God to give Beard's father one more day – Christmas with his family. Dermon lead the prayer in American Sign Language.
Beard later told Dermon that her father went on to live several more months.
"How amazed I was that a deaf person could say a prayer and do something to help the family," Dermon said. "She has been an inspiration, and that will continue."
About five or six years ago, the church launched the Lillian Beard Deaf Connection Center in an effort to further follow Beard's example.
"Lillian went out every day and interpreted for the deaf," Craig said. "That's what we wanted to do with the deaf center, provide more services for the deaf."
The center offers a wealth of educational programs for the community.
Beard lived to see the center open.
She died in June 2010 at age 101.
"We're trying to continue her work," Craig said.
His goals for the church include creation of a missionary training center.
Craig also would like to see the center receive more funding to increase its staff.
In addition to its services for the deaf, the church offers a military ministry inspired by Craig's son, Staff Sgt. Brian Craig, a soldier killed 11 years ago in Afghanistan. A film, "Brian's Story: Beyond the Grave," is being made about his life.
Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church offers Sunday School classes at 9 a.m. and Sunday services at 11 a.m. For more information, visit http://www.woodhavendeaf.org.
For more about Brian Craig, visit http://www.ssgbriantcraig.org.