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Posted On: 2018-04-02 09:48 PM
From East Valley Tribune...
As Pastor Jeremy Fass preaches the Gospel, the only sound he makes is tiny wisps of breath and the occasional smack of hands coming together.
His congregation's eyes lock on him as he does it.
Fass leads Silent Hope Church in Mesa, the first congregation in the East Valley headed by a deaf person.
Fass was born hearing but became profoundly deaf as a toddler due to complications from spinal meningitis. At age 4, he began attending the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson, where he lived until graduation in 1995.
"I didn't know about religion, nothing about Jesus," Fass said through his interpreter – his wife, Kim.
Kim was a cashier at Walmart at the time. She was attracted to Fass and started communicating with him through written messages. Kim, a Christian at age 8, started sharing messages about Jesus. He said he thought she was talking about a Hispanic man named Jesus.
"I just started talking to him because I could see the loneliness," Kim said.
Kim eventually learned American Sign Language to communicate better with Fass. He became a Christian, and now they've been married 16 years. They have one daughter and two sons.
Fass' passion for the Gospel was fired up by a friend.
"A deaf friend said I should go to a deaf conference in Texas," he said. "There were 300 Christian men there. I never saw so many people communicating in my language. I met a deaf pastor who was on fire for God."
He was challenged by the pastor.
"He said God understood my pain. We cried. I said, 'I'm ready.'"
On Easter 2010, Fass started a Bible study at Hi-Way Baptist Church in Mesa.
"There was one deaf person, but it grew," he said.
The pastor at Hi-Way encouraged Fass to go to seminary. Eventually, Fass went to Golden Gate Baptist Theological seminary as its first deaf student and graduated with a master of theological study degree.
"I felt that God believed in me," Fass said. "I could tell that was an answer to prayer."
Fass started a church in 2012 that now meets at the Heart of Mesa Church Building, 851 N. Stapley Drive, Mesa.
"My church is mainstreaming," he said. "We bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing.
"We have people there who are disabled, and kids who are autistic. One leader is autistic."
He hopes to make his church a home for the deaf community.
"A lot of the deaf feel rejected and alone. I want to build community, not only inside church but outside. We need to serve the community, be the hands and feet of Jesus. Not just a lot of talk. I want to put God's love into action."
Fass said the difference between the deaf and the hearing is a challenge for him.
"Deaf culture is different from those who can hear," he said. "We are more of a community. We are described as being blunt, but we just say it as we see it. There is no sugarcoating in the deaf community.
"So when hearing people come to our church, they have a little bit of a culture shock."
At a typical service, the taped worship music booms throughout the church.
"The music is really loud so the deaf can feel the vibrations," Fass said.
During the music, volunteer Tommie Gross signs with a flourish, sharing the feel of the songs, as other parishioners join in and sign. Those who can hear sing along.
Gross, who is deaf, came to the church six years ago in what she said is an unusual way.
"I met the pastor's wife at a funeral," she said through an interpreter. "She introduced me to her husband, and I couldn't believe he was a pastor.
"I went to their church, and that's all she wrote."
Gross is now worship leader, sharing songs with the church.
"I can hear the music, the rise and fall of it. But I don't understand the lyrics," she said. "I have to study and memorize them to sign them."
Gross, who works for a group home for the deaf called Rise Inc., said she volunteers at the church "out of love."
"I love music. I love signing songs," she said.
During the message, Marleah Jacobson interprets, speaking Fass' words from the front pews via a microphone.
"I've been a part of the church coming on four years now," said Jacobson, who is hearing. "I went to an event in Phoenix. It was a deaf ministry thing I heard about from a coworker, and a woman who goes to the church.
"The next Sunday, I went to the church."
Jacobson, who has a master's degree in deaf education, works at Sequoia School for Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
"I've seen how beautiful ASL is to deaf people, and it's a huge blessing to see God move and work in the deaf community."
Jacobson also has kind words for the Fasses.
"They are awesome people to know. I'm so thankful to have met them. It's really cool to see their heart for the deaf community, to see how much they want to reach people for God."
This Sunday, Fass will preach about life "Without Easter."
"Without Easter, we would have no real hope or real purpose here on Earth," he said.
"Easter means the world to me. If this day didn't happen I wouldn't be where I am today. Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so I could live with Him forever in eternity."
For the future, Fass would like to grow the church, but he said it's not up to him.
"It's in God's timing," he said. "His plan is always better than ours, so we have to be patient."
He does have a passion to extend his ministry, though.
"I want to be a planter of deaf churches," Fass said.
Information: silenthopechurch.org, 480-525-8826, SilentHopeChurchFamily@gmail.com