How God Saved a Deaf Youth
by Dr. Andrew Foster (MA, LHD)
In the hot southern summer of 1936, polio was raging like a storm. Fortunately, the press and radio were able to put most people on guard. Reaction was typical in Fairfield, Ala., then a growing steel and wire mill sub division of Birmingham. Sunday school attendance fell. The park and amusement places were deserted. And though the great economical depression was just behind, most people managed to buy immunizations.
Luckily or unluckily, “lightning” struck, to our know ledge, only one house in the colored community: our home. My three year’s old brother was “hit.” Preventive measures were stepped up. My two sisters and I, then just past my eleventh birthday, were quarantined. Still, about a week later, another “bolt from the blue.” This time I went down with spinal meningitis. Upon recovering, the diseases left no crippling defeats. But the high fever destroyed our bearing nerves completely. This must have been a terrible blow to our hard-working parents - Dad was a chesty coal miner. But as I was to learn years later, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Naturally, parents of physically impaired persons do not readily accept their “fate,” The advice of one physician or specialist is hardly convincing. Therefore, most parents are willing to sacrifice money and time seeking a cure from other doctors, faith healers and even quacks! Our dear parents were little exception. So, around and around we went with Mom–all to no avail. God had better things in store!
Meanwhile, my brother and I were adjusting to our new silent world. We resumed our merry adventures with neighborhood kids at Sunday School, camp, the park and in the nearby woods. Also l spent almost five years at a school for deaf children in Talladega. Here, I believe God distinctly spoke to me in my second year. During the daily devotion period, a Bible verse would be taught from the blackboard. All would either gather wool or just escape out the back of my head, so to speak. But somehow Matthew 6:33 stuck, and has always stood out vividly. It promises: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
To seek, I thought, meant more than just going to Sunday School. So I tried to “turn over a new leaf.” In addition, I began a habit of daily Bible reading-which today, after nearly 40 years and about the same number of readings from cover to cover, I find true to Acts 20:32; also a most wonderful enjoyment of “the deep things of God” (l Corinthians 2:l 0-12).
Since first walking from the hospital into this silent world, I had wondered what could a deaf person do. How could one get ahead in life? With childhood ambitions swept away, and education for the deaf being what it was in the South then, I set out for Detroit on my own at seventeen. And this coincided with the flood of war workers to the industrial North.
In Detroit, one of my first objectives was to find a church for the deaf. Their meeting place turned out to be a small, aging brick house. The minister resided upstairs. Downstairs, walls had been removed to make an assembly room. Yet it was God’s choice for my rendezvous with Christ.
The Christians there had a tremendous burden for the hearing handicapped. A front section of the hall was reserved for them. Several persons took turns interpreting the service in the sign language, by which the deaf also joined in the singing. And the deaf were often mentioned publicly and in prayer by the smiling Bahamian minister, B. M. Nottage.
But my greatest impact came on Sunday afternoons, when the entire hall was used for deaf people. Here a short stocky jovial hearing brother, Walter J. Lyon, regularly made his way from across town. Though a full time factory· worker, ministering to the Black deaf was his first love. “Bro. Lion,” as he was affectionately called in the sign language, faithfully labored with this group for about 45 years, until shortly before his Home-going in 1966.
The message emphasized by both preachers was essentially the same. ”God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son … ,””Christ Jesus died for our sins.” And so on. It was mid-summer. To one accustomed to formalism, it seemed that their themes were “out of season,” more appropriate for Christmas and Easter.
One Sunday I decided to give them a piece of my mind-and received a piece of theirs! When Bro. Lyon gestured for anyone to sing, pray or give a word of exhortation, I raised my hand. Then followed reflections of my upbringing: “Vain repetitions,” the Ten Commandments and so on. This I did for a number of Sundays. In fact, unwittingly, 1 was becoming a boy preacher. Most of the deaf always seemed pleased by my “fair speech” and “much saying.” Bro. Lyon’s gentle face would beam too. But afterwards, using the Word of God, he would quietly try to get me straight on Biblical Truths, though 1 was not always very ‘teachable.’
I knew the law, but not grace. I possessed a head knowledge of Jesus’ birth, life, sufferings, death and resurrection. But the essence of believing about (historically) and believing ‘in’ (saving faith) had never been stressed to me. So Law vs Grace became a long-drawn battle between the two of us. Each week I would arrive at the hall early for our friendly debate, which would be resumed after the service — and often made Mr. Lyon late for meetings elsewhere. No doubt I, like other legalists, was a fitting description of Paul’s in I Timothy 1:7 “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”
Mr. Lyon was a humble Bible teacher and apt illustrator. I well remember some of his points. The law condemns, but Jesus saves (Romans 7:10, 11, 25). Like a mirror, the law reveals sin (Romans 7:7); but neither a looking glass nor the law can cleanse – only the blood of Jesus Christ can (l John 1:7, 9; Colossians 1:4). The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, then we are no longer under a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24-25). The law bounds, but Christ frees (Galatians 4:24; 5:1). You are complete in Jesus (Colossians 2:10).
Occasionally, these points would reach home. They corroborated with truths I had been learning in the morning services and through Gospel literature. But somehow I would lean back upon the law. And just as II Corinthians 3:14, 15 affirms, the legalistic minded person cannot apprehend these Truths. He is spiritually blinded. “The vail is upon their hearts.” One day Bro. Lyon’s long patience ebbed a bit. Gesturing emphatically, he said, “Andrew, forget the law! Forget the law! Look to Jesus only! Look to Jesus only!”
This was enough. I decided to give Mr. Lyon’s idea a better trial. As the days went on, I noticed that “the vail had been taken away” (II Corinthians 3:18).
Oh, what a glorious transformation! How thankful I am to God! Also to Bro. Lyon and Bro. Nottage! The messages and songs at the chapel became more meaningful, such as this favorite:
At the Cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light.
And the burden of my heart rolled away:
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
This testimony, I trust, will give you a little glimpse of what the Lord can do when we fully yield our heart and life to Him. Matthew 6:33 ought to be everyone’s motto. Unless you are already truly born again, may I invite you to receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior today?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
God enabled Mr. Foster to overcome his physical and spiritual handicaps as well as educational and racial barriers.
Being a minor (17) and his parents residents of another state, he was barred from the Michigan state school for the deaf. Undaunted, young Andrew eventually took a night factory job, attended the Detroit Institute of Commerce by day, and studied high school correspondence during odd moments.
Evidently, the hard work conditioned him. He later zoomed through college, earning three degrees in five years (B.A. Gallaudet College; summer sessions Hampton Institute; M.A. Eastern Michigan University; and B.A. in Missions Seattle Pacific College). He also did post-master work at Wayne University. By coincidence, he was the first Negro both to graduate from Gallaudet as well as to receive a Master degree from Eastern Michigan.
Andrew had long felt a missionary call to the deaf in Africa. Though well qualified spiritually and educationally, he discovered the doors of most mission board closed lo Blacks. Undeterred again, he founded the Detroit-based Christian Mission for Deaf Africans. Then scaling other hurdles, he reached West Africa in 1957. To date he has pioneered education and Gospel work among the deaf in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad and indirectly in Liberia. Also he has oriented Nationals from far off Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Cameroon and other African countries to work with the deaf. It has been his privilege to see a number of deaf souls saved and baptized.
In recognition of his unique service, in 1970 one of his alma maters, Gallaudet College, conferred upon him a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Dr. and Mrs. Foster, the former Berta Zuther, have five children.
Besides Matthew 6:33, the Fosters say their life’s watchword is: Romans 8:37 – “More than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
On Dec.3, 1987, Andrew Foster went to be with the Lord, through an airplane accident in Rwanda, Africa.