Alyssa Johns ran as fast as she could over the rough terrain to keep up with Kevin Rance and the Honduran child ahead of her. She yelled, "Kevin!" but immediately remembered that this was an inherently ineffective way to get his attention. Both Rance and the child were deaf.
So she continued up the rocky mountain path, wondering where they were going and whether the rest of their team would be able to keep up behind them.
Johns served as Rance's interpreter for a one-week mission trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, during the University of Georgia's spring break in March. Rance went on the same trip with Prince Avenue Baptist Church's college ministry the previous year and met a deaf child named Tatianna. He had hoped to see her again during this trip.
Earlier that afternoon, Rance and Johns saw a deaf Honduran girl wearing a hearing aid. Johns was astonished because she thought the girl might be Tatianna. Rance didn't recognize they girl, but they approached her and asked if she knew Tatianna. The child, whose name was Nicole, smiled and said, "Yes! Follow me!"
Nicole took off running, which led the missions team on the fast hike up the forested mountain. She led them to a house, and when they walked through the door, Johns and Rance saw a girl, less than 10 years old, who turned out to be Nicole's sister. It was Tatianna.
Rance began enthusiastically signing to her, but neither of the girls could understand, Johns said. Tatianna could not read lips well, and her only other form of communication was grunting.
"She didn't know how to speak or sign, and that broke my heart," Rance told me.
Rance and Johns figured out a system of communicating with her through body language. The girls became more comfortable, and Tatianna blinked her eyes emphatically, indicating she was happy.
"They were communicating. That was the big deal," Johns said. "Her blinking to me and Kevin, saying, 'I'm happy. I'm good.' meant the world." Rance's willingness to patiently sit and communicate with her meant a lot to Tatianna because not many people had ever taken the time to do so, Johns said.
According to the International Mission Board, fewer than 2 percent of the 33.5 million deaf people around the world are Christians.
Rance, a fifth year mathematics student at the University of Georgia, said that his experience in Honduras gave him an even greater desire to share the gospel with the Deaf, because he knows from his own experience that all they really need is to have a relationship with God.
Rance's story in Honduras confirmed what his close friends already know about him.
"Kevin is an amazing person. He's full of life; full of passion. He's very excited about everything," said Karen Pratt, who works alongside her husband Sky, the college pastor at Prince Avenue Baptist Church. Pratt described Rance as a very independent person, who does not let being deaf hold him back from trying to do anything. Just being around Rance inspired her and others, Pratt said.
Rance leads the college deaf ministry at Prince Avenue Baptist. And for the last three years, he has taught an American Sign Language (ASL) class every Tuesday night at the college ministry's meeting place, the Connection Cafe. The deaf ministry's ultimate goal is for deaf people to know the gospel and to equip the people in the college ministry with the means to carry that out, he said.
Rance, 22, became a Christian when he was in elementary school at his home church in Fayetteville, Ga. Although he prayed a silent prayer of salvation at a youth event, it was not until his sophomore year in college that he became more intentional about following Jesus.
Rance's joy and boldness strike everyone around him, Pratt said. Michael Creed, one of Rance's friends majoring in Japanese at UGA, said Rance helped him view the world differently.
"Kevin is so cool all the time, but I think if I were deaf, I would not be as joyful. I'd be angry," Creed said. The isolation of being surrounded by people who can't communicate with you must be incredibly difficult, Creed said. But Rance joyfully and boldly approaches people in order to extend friendship to them, something Creed said he really admired.
Rance inspired Creed to begin learning ASL when they met two years ago in one of UGA's dorms. When he first met Rance, Creed said he did not know how to communicate with him. Rance has an excellent ability to read lips, but at the time, Creed did not know ASL. One day in the dorm, Creed approached Rance and asked him by writing on a piece of paper to teach him to sign the word "summer." This was Creed's starting point for learning ASL, and now he regularly attends Rance's class.
"Kevin has helped people to really understand the need to learn ASL and about how to speak ASL correctly," Pratt said. "He's helped inspire people to want to learn the language. He's helped people to understand the culture of the Deaf - and that they have a culture - and this is something I don't feel like a hearing person can do the same way."
Recently, Rance went to a Deaf convention where he felt the Lord leading him to approach a Jehovah's Witness booth. He said he conversed in ASL with a "nice, sweet woman" at the booth about their different beliefs about the Holy Spirit. "I believed the truth, that the Holy Spirit is part of the trinity, God Himself," Rance said. "She believed that the Spirit was just God's power." Rance said. He shared Bible verses with her concerning the Holy Spirit.
Rance said that he learned through that experience not to fear approaching anybody and to be bold about sharing the gospel, regardless of the person's race, ethnicity, orientation or religious background.
Although Rance felt called to minister to deaf people, he learned the most about how to do it from two hearing friends.
Chris and Coda Black, are both fluent in ASL. Chris Black interned with Prince Avenue Baptist Church's college ministry for two years. Soon after getting married, the couple left Athens, Ga., to attend seminary this fall.
Rance met with Black for discipleship during his internship. Through spending time with Black, Rance learn about signing Bible stories and worship songs, as well as different methods for reaching out to a deaf person.
"When I saw their love for ASL, the Deaf and the gospel, I was amazed!" Rance said.
Before getting married, Coda Black lived for two years as an overseas missionary through the Journeyman program, sharing the gospel with the Deaf. Her future husband also served as a missionary through the same program in a different country before interning with the college ministry.
"I was so inspired by both Chris and Coda that it strengthened my resolve to go abroad and share the gospel with the Deaf people in whatever country God wants me to go," Rance said.
Rance's experience in Honduras gave him a greater awareness for how many deaf people in other countries are not as fortunate as those who live in America, where they have access to translators and know ASL. In other countries, the race for equality in education and the workforce is almost non-existent, he said: "It's impossible for them to fit in or get a good education."
No matter who he's reaching out to, Rance proclaims the gospel through his actions, Johns said.
"He wants to show God and love to everyone. It doesn't matter if they're deaf; it doesn't matter if they're hearing... Even if it means signing, teaching ASL or blinking, Kevin wants to communicate and show the gospel."
Video produced by Daniel Dunnam and Kelsey Deans for WORLD on Campus.