His name was Charlie and his wife was Myrna. Charlie worked with my dad for the county road maintenance department.
Charlie and Myrna were deaf. Myrna was profoundly deaf and couldn’t verbalize much more than grunting type noises. Charlie was equally deaf but not totally mute. Plus he read lips fairly well. He gave serious attempts to communicate verbally and sometimes he was successful. If he became irritated enough the words “chicken shit” left his lips quite clearly. And without fail if you asked “How are you?”, he would say loudly “Old man 95” and start walking all bent over to fully answer the question.
My family….mom, dad, my sister Sharon and I, didn’t do a lot of socializing. I can’t ever recall my parents having friends over for dinner. No big deal, it just didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.
But enter “dominoes” into that equation and the scene changes. Daddy frequented Liby’s pool hall downtown where he regularly played double six domino games with friends. The memories are a bit faded but I believe Harry, Bill, Charlie, Percy and Dad were among the frequent Domino group. Maybe a few others rotated in and out of the games, but these men were the norms. It was their thing.
Sometimes Mom and Dad would have folks over to play dominoes. And by far the most regular visitors over the years for domino games were Charlie and his wife Myrna.
Often our tiny living room was filled with the sounds of dominoes being shuffled and games being played without much conversation. The games were intense though. No doubt about whether winning at dominoes was important. If Myrna happened to play poorly and set up Mom and Dad to score big, Charlie was unhappy and his go-to comment about poultry feces would be audible to probably anyone on the block. And if she really messed up repeatedly there would be sign language arguments between the two of them that clearly expressed just how they both felt at the moment.
Silent communication. Quite powerful.
My dad passed away in 1972, and Myrna passed away in 1975. I have to believe that Charlie’s heart was broken and his life lonelier, quieter than ever in his deaf life.
Around that same time Charlie walked through the doors of church for the first time one Sunday. My brother-in-law Dave had been pastor of our little church for two or three years. Charlie sat in the back pew and took it all in.
One might think there is nothing that a deaf person can gain from attending a church service where everything revolves around sound. Music. The pastoral message. The greeting and visiting of those in attendance.
But he came back. Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Dave reached out to him personally and they became close friends. Through the silence, Dave reached Charlie’s heart and soul with the message of Christ.
Our daughters were little, and our youngest daughter in particular always greeted Charlie on Sundays and gave him a hug. The Soule girls along with the other children in the church befriended him also and made him feel significant. No words needed.
Some churches have folks who do sign language during the service for those who need it. My friend Becky and I considered taking a sign language class to fill that need. But the particular style of sign language Charlie used was strictly “Charlie style”. We could go to the class being offered but it wouldn’t be of any use to help Charlie get more out of going to church.
But Sunday after Sunday he was there. Watching the songs being sung but not hearing the music or lyrics. Watching Dave speak words of life but never hearing the message. Watching folks chat with each other before and after the service, but never hearing what they were saying.
But he saw the smiling faces and he smiled back. He saw those in attendance reaching out to him and he felt welcome.
He felt loved. He experienced the gospel through the silent love of Christ-followers reaching out to him. The Holy Spirit made sure His message was clear.
Charlie passed away in 1987.
One could just imagine that after he took his last breath and his heart stopped beating, he was welcomed into heaven and the arms of Jesus.
I can imagine Jesus holding him close and welcoming him home. Charlie, fully healed and able to hear and speak, maybe telling Jesus how Dave had been a friend who introduced him to a love like he’d never known. The love of Christ. Forgiveness and grace that was so amazing. And he could tell of other Christ-followers who also communicated the gospel without using words. They showed Charlie who Jesus is by their actions. Silent love.
St Francis of Assisi is famously known for this quote: “Spread the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”.
I kind of think that…..if you can’t share the gospel without words, there’s no point in trying to share the gospel with words. Actions speak so much louder than words that can ring so hollow. Love never fails.