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A chance meeting...

Peter Atkins
A chance meeting after the Christchurch earthquake brought Peter Atkins to God.

I don’t know what it is like to hear a voice as I have been Deaf from birth. But I do know what it is like to hear God’s voice. I feel him communicating with me in my subconscious, comforting and guiding me, and giving me peace and strength.

When I was young I got into trouble with the police. They would talk to me, but I couldn’t understand what they wanted. I thought they were making fun of me, so I got angry and violent. I saw this was not a good way to be and changed almost immediately.

I went to a few churches but found them boring as I couldn’t understand what people were saying. No one knew how to do sign language and they would not try very hard to communicate with me, so I just hung out with my Deaf friends who knew sign language.

In 2010, I had some heart problems resulting in a series of operation, including open-heart surgery. I wasn’t expected to live.

I slowly recovered and then the earthquakes started, putting me under enormous stress and at risk of further heart troubles. On 22 February 2011, we had our major earthquake in Christchurch. I was very upset; so was my partner and friends. We couldn’t find our loved ones and I ended up wandering up our street, trying to find out what was happening.

I came to the corner of our street and saw a Salvation Army church. A man came and spoke to me. I indicated to him that I was Deaf and couldn’t understand him. To my surprise, he started communicating with me in sign language. He offered me a coffee and a place to sit and talk for a while.

We sparked up a friendship and I started to attend a coffee morning at their Community Ministries centre. From there, I started volunteering, then attended church services and a men’s Bible study. I have rediscovered my connection with God and feel closer to him that ever.

I am happy and my life has improved. I feel God’s presence with me as I go about my daily routine. I think God for his healing hand on my life. I am back in full-time work and am feeling great, with no further heart problems.

I love my new family at Sydenham Salvation Army. The corps officer (pastor) prints off the sermons for me. People want to learn to sign here. We have taken over the back corner of the hall for Deaf people and those keen to learn New Zealand Sign Language. Some of the members of the church take turns signing what’s happening in the service and we make an attempt at signed singing.

I have many friends in the Deaf community, including Deaf people and their families and friends. These are people who know, understand and accept Deaf culture. I am assisting in bridging the gap between my faith family and my Deaf family because God loves them. I want them to experience what I am experiencing from God.

By Peter Atkins (abridged from War Cry, 2 June 2012, p9)