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ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — There were minimal resources available when Marshall and Terry Lawrence discovered their daughter Rachel was deaf.
They struggled to communicate with her. They struggled to find ways to help her. They struggled to teach her about their faith.
"That was a whole different world ago because we knew nothing about deaf culture," Terry told The Herald Bulletin (http://bit.ly/16bwlLU). "We didn't know anything about what options were available to us, how we would have her educated."
The Lawrences have come a long way in the decades since. They've gone from knowing nothing about deaf culture to paving the way for current and future generations of deaf children to have an easier time in life.
Nearly 20 years after coming up with "Dr. Wonder's Workshop," a television show that aims for deaf and hearing inclusiveness, the Lawrences are expanding their nonprofit organization Silent Blessings' mission to help deaf children learn about Christianity.
This is going to be a big year for Silent Blessings. The sixth and final season of "Dr. Wonder's Workshop" is on track to air on major Christian networks this fall, and the organization is working on helping churches reach out to deaf children.
To do that, Silent Blessings is creating a curriculum and materials so churches can include deaf and hearing children in vacation Bible school.
Using some of the characters and video from "Dr. Wonder," teachers would set up different learning centers like normal at VBS. At each station, children would watch a video created by Silent Blessings with a deaf person signing, a voiceover and captions to explain the game or activity. Afterward, the video would conclude with explaining what the activity had to do with trusting God.
Terry said the materials could be used for deaf churches or for hearing churches that may have deaf kids. There are little to no similar resources available on the market now, and it's something that could easily be used by dear or hearing children.
"It's something in their own language, and they don't feel secondhand or maybe forgotten," she said. "Sometimes teachers forget they have a deaf child and turn their head, and the child (who is) hoping to read lips is not able to do that."
It's hard for a lot of people to look at the world through the eyes of a deaf child, but it's something the parents learned to do early on.
About 92 percent of children with permanent hearing loss are born to two hearing parents, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
It took a while for Marshall and Terry to master sign language so they could communicate with their daughter. In the beginning, they struggled with how to teach her Bible stories or pray with her when they spoke a different language than Rachel.
"We couldn't leave that alone," Marshall said. "We knew that other parents must be feeling the same way, so we looked into what resources we could find, and that's ultimately what led us to do what we do now."
Bridging the gap between deaf children and hearing Christians has become the couple's calling.
Even though Rachel is now an adult and lives in Oregon, the memories and experiences still weigh on her parents, making them experts on how to help others.
"It's a little different if you're dealing with a special needs kid, because everything is new and often traumatic," Marshall said. "(The memories) burn into your head, and you don't forget that stuff. You never forget the day you took her to the deaf school for the first time and she's excited because she sees other kids with hearing aids on, and she runs over and points to her ear, 'Same!'
"You never forget that."
Most companies aren't interested in publishing resources to deaf Christians because it's such a niche market and isn't considered a moneymaker.
But the Lawrences are determined to complete their VBS project by the end of the year so deaf kids have a better church experience.
Pending funding, in the far future Silent Blessings wants to create a film about the life of Jesus Christ using all deaf actors.
The ministry has also been helped to head up a curriculum for Deaf Opportunity Outreach International, an organization that translates the Bible into different countries' sign languages. The project would include creating a three-year Sunday school curriculum as a framework for people in other countries to use.
Throughout all cultures and languages, Marshall said deaf children are among the most spiritually isolated people.
When they get letters from people who have discovered "Dr. Wonder's Workshop," Terry said her reaction ranges from laughing to tears.
"You get people who will write and say, 'Tell me about God,'" she said.
For more information about Silent Blessings or to donate, go to silentblessings.org.
Information from: The Herald Bulletin, http://www.theheraldbulletin.com
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