Kuyper alumna Ellen (Slomp) Kammeraad, class of 2014, works with Deaf Teen Quest, a ministry of Youth for Christ, to reach deaf teenagers in West Michigan with the gospel.
Kammeraad grew up on a small hobby farm in Big Rapids, Michigan. As she puts it, her joyful upbringing was “filled with horses, catching frogs, church activities and fun memories.” When she was 12 years old, her family adopted a young boy from Ethiopia who was deaf and communicated through American Sign Language (ASL). Her relationship with her adopted brother sparked Kammeraad’s interest in working with the deaf community. A few years after that, they adopted three girls from Ethiopia, making them a family of eleven. While adjusting to the new family brought some difficulties, it helped them grow closer to God and to each other.
When her college years approached, Kammeraad felt God’s call to be a sign language interpreter. Although Kuyper does not offer a sign language program, as the daughter of two Kuyper graduates, Kammeraad had heard about the value of the biblical education her parents had received at Kuyper and decided to attend for two years. The time was well worth it, according to Kammeraad: “I grew more in my short time there than I have at any other point in life.” After graduating Kuyper in 2014 with an associate degree, Kammeraad attended Lansing Community College for three years to attain her certification in ASL teaching.
While in college, Kammeraad thought she was meant to work in international missions as an ASL translator. Over time, however, she began to realize the deep need for deaf teenagers in West Michigan to have the gospel made accessible to them. To meet this need, Kammeraad worked with Youth for Christ to start a Deaf Teen Quest chapter in West Michigan.
Youth for Christ has been reaching teens with the gospel since the 1940s, and to broaden this mission, they started Deaf Teen Quest in 2008. Now, it has more than a dozen chapters nationwide. Deaf Teen Quest’s mission is to “build Christ-centered, life-changing relationships with deaf and hard of hearing students by entering the world of deaf teenagers with fun, friendship, fellowship and faith.”
Twice a month, a group of ASL-fluent adults—some of whom are deaf—meet with a group of deaf and hard of hearing teenagers for Club. At Club, they have dinner together, play games, do a Bible lesson, and then engage in deeper discussion with small groups. Kammeraad explained, “Although that might not sound super special, it is life-changing for these teens because it’s a place where they finally have full access to all information and communication.”
Kammeraad compared the day-to-day life of a deaf individual to an experience in a country where one does not speak the language. “Living with a constant language barrier can be very frustrating,” she said. “But at Deaf Teen Quest, these teenagers get to interact with people who speak their language. They have the opportunity to hear the gospel in their first language—their ‘heart language.’”
As director, Kammeraad prepares lessons, games and small group discussions. Outside of her time at Club, she seeks out the teens to spend time with them. Before Club, a group of teens comes over to play games, work on homework and eat snacks. “The absolute BEST part of working with Deaf Teen Quest is sharing who Jesus is. Like these teens,” said Kammeraad, “He knows what it feels like to be misunderstood, to not ‘fit in,’ to be rejected by family and friends, to be different than everyone else. It’s been incredible to see the transformation in teens as they learn about Jesus’ love and how He wants a relationship with them!”
Kammeraad is optimistic about the future of Deaf Teen Quest. Her prayer is that the teens in the Club will become the next generation of deaf leaders. In the meantime, she wants to give deaf teens a place of Christ-centered community, explaining, “My dream is that deaf teens would no longer feel isolated, but finally have a place to belong, to be loved, and to learn of the goodness of Jesus.”