Sitting in a pizza joint in Houston, Texas, Shirley was torn. Deaf from birth, she had asked Jesus into her life at age 9. But even now, at 59, nothing had changed for her. She enjoyed hanging out with other Deaf people, but she didn’t want to go to church. And, she told her friend having pizza with her, she didn’t want to get involved with other people in the church. Cesar Torres, a part-time pastor at the recently-launched Deaf congregation at Houston’s Champion Forest Baptist Church, overheard Shirley and her friend talking. Not wanting to interfere too much in their conversation, Cesar simply told her that Jesus loved her. Then he asked her to church. After coming to church one Sunday, Shirley met with Cesar and his wife, Rita. After talking over Romans 10:9, Shirley realized that she’d always believed a person was saved by knowledge, not by grace. Right there, she confessed Jesus as her Lord. And today … well, she’s involved with the same church people she initially wanted nothing to do with. She was even invited to join a shortterm mission trip to Costa Rica. “She’s such a godly woman now, instead of in her mind, thinking knowledge was the only way to know God,” Cesar said. “And now she has Jesus within her heart.” An estimated 70 million people worldwide are Deaf, according to the World Federation of the Deaf, and only 2 percent of them have ever learned about Jesus. Perhaps not coincidentally, though hundreds of spoken and written languages have a full Bible, not one single sign language does. That makes ministry to Deaf people through other sign language means — personal conversations, for example — that much more important. Cesar Torres has taken on that task in two ways — as director of Scripture engagement for Deaf Bible Society in Arlington, Texas, and a part-time pastor in Houston.
Cesar, 54, grew up in Puerto Rico in a Catholic family with several Deaf members — his brother, aunt and uncle among them. He accepted Christ at age 15 but didn’t know any Deaf people outside his family. A deep sense of isolation crept over him and his Deaf family members. Then Cesar began attending a Protestant church where the pastor didn’t use a real sign language or even the community’s native sign language, but gestured in a way that effectively communicated God’s love to him. One day, Cesar says through a sign language interpreter, he had a clear vision and knew that Jesus died for him, and he gave his life to Christ. But he still carried that stigma of being Deaf in a hearing world. "At that time I said, ‘Now, because I’m Deaf, I must become hearing,” Cesar recalls. “I thought that I needed to be hearing to be saved. And I walked in front of the church, and I said, ‘Please pray for me to become hearing because Deaf can’t have Jesus.’ And they said, ‘No! Jesus loves everyone, Deaf or hearing!’ And I just bawled.” Today, Cesar spends 40 weekends a year in Houston, pastoring his two-year old Deaf congregation. The other 12 weekends, he travels for Deaf Bible Society. In his pastoral role, Cesar has gotten to tell many people about Christ at the growing church of more than 50 Deaf members. Many people, like Shirley, have seen Christ’s love and want to join the church that showed it to them. “Spiritually, it’s all controlled by God, the blessings that we see and just allowing God’s work through my life,” Cesar says. “It changes people, how they get to know God.”