It was the end of the lesson before I realised he was deaf. I was a young missionary and had only been in the ward for a month. When my companion and I saw Brother Yao sitting there alone and silent, we just thought he was shy. When we asked him his name, the Gospel Principles teacher finally said, “Sisters, he’s deaf!”
The next class was a combined priesthood and Relief Society lesson on family history. I saw Brother Yao watching the other members as they spoke to each other. I saw in his eyes that he wanted to be a part of it, but because he couldn’t hear or speak, he just sat in the corner on his own.
I sat next to him and wrote on a piece of paper, “Brother, are you okay?”
He said yes. I could tell he was too shy to ask for help, so I continued to write to him.
“They are speaking about family history,” I wrote.
He gave the sign for thank you.
I continued to write to him throughout the lesson so that he could understand what was being discussed. As I did, I saw his shy frown turn into an engaged smile. I wondered how he would understand what was being taught when I wasn’t there writing everything for him.
“Brother, do you understand the things people are saying when they teach?” I wrote as the lesson ended.
He shook his head.
“But you still come?” I asked.
He took the pen and wrote, “I member,” then pointed to himself.
Those two words touched me deeply. This 58-year-old man didn’t have any friends at church because communication was so difficult. He could not get into any of the class discussions or sing the hymns or any of those things that I had always enjoyed at church. He had no family left, as his parents had died and his brothers had moved to Australia and left him behind, and work was hard to come by for a deaf person. So, while he worked very hard at what employment he could find, he was practically homeless. And yet here he was. He attended church whenever he could afford the bus fare. He attended classes and picked up whatever he could because “I member.”
I questioned my own conversion. Would I still come if I couldn’t hear or talk to people? Would I still come if making friends was this hard? Would I still come if all those things that we take for granted weren’t there?
After church, a few of us missionaries decided to learn as much sign language as we could before our next appointment. We managed to learn the alphabet and many other words in only half an hour. When we saw him later that day, we were actually able to have a decent conversation with him using the sign language we had learnt. He was so happy. There was a light about him as he was finally being understood.
Brother Yao is a great example to me of what it means to be truly converted. I want to be like him. I want to know that no matter how things change or how hard living the gospel might be, church membership will mean as much to me as it did to him and that I will be as loyal to it as he was.