August 21, 2017

Leong, A Man Without A Language

Bob McLain

I have been a communicator all my life. Not only have I been a communicator of the gospel at home and on the mission field, but I speak through the marvels of sign language to the deaf.

Through all this, never have I been so burdened and bewildered at how to communicate as the day I met Leong.

Leong was in his mid sixties. He was a citizen of Singapore. In 1983 I met him through Lucas Lee, a deaf preacher and dear friend. He brought Leong to me with the burden to share the gospel with him. Leong was born a deaf mute and had never learned to communicate in any way. He was a man without a language.

I was at a loss for how to communicate with Leong. We started to draw pictures in the sand but soon gave up in frustration. I prayed for wisdom that I might effectively share the Gospel story without speaking. I also started looking for pictures that would help Leong to understand.

I found an old Chinese picture book about the plan of salvation and went with Lucas back to see Leong. I decided to try to explain one concept at a time. The first was creation. We showed him the pictures of creation with all the animals and the lights, the sun, the stars, the moon. We showed him pictures of Adam and Eve, with God looking on from Heaven. I tried to get across to him that God created us all.

When Leong seemed to have grasped the idea of creation, we moved on to teach him that we are all sinners. I had a picture that showed the head of a man with a cloud full of his thoughts-thoughts of money, houses, cars, and clothes. We pointed to the head as if we were thinking these things. We showed him another picture of drinking, gambling, fighting, getting drunk-things that showed sin. We turned the page again to show man’s end — death. All men were to die. The picture showed a coffin falling down into hell and people falling down over a cliff into a fire.

I sensed that Leong understood the gravity of sin in a man’s life and prayed that the Holy Spirit would give him special understanding and work through this silent Gospel plan.

Using a picture of Jesus coming down to the earth through the clouds, I hoped Leong would see it as God coming down to earth. I also used a Christmas scene of Jesus in the manger, and then of Jesus dying on the cross. We showed a picture of Him being buried, and showed how the tomb was opened and He rose again. We showed one of how He ascended up into Heaven and we pointed up into the heavens and kept signing the sign Jesus by pointing our finger into the palm of our hand where the nail prints are.

Things seemed to be going fine until we tried to show the meaning of the word believe. We wanted to show him how to believe in God in a personal way. How could we do it? We found a picture of a man who was drowning in the sea, about to go under the water as the lifeboat approached. In the lifeboat was a sailor who threw a rope with a life buoy, and rescued the man, pulling him in. Suddenly, I realized we could act this out. So we sat Leong down, took some chairs, and formed them into a boat. We got into the boat and Lucas pretended he was drowning in the sea. I got some rope and threw it to Lucas, and he pulled himself into the safety of the boat. I had somebody else pretend to drown. Again I threw the rope, and he pulled himself to safety.

Then we put Leong out there. We threw the rope to him as he was splashing around and acting like he was drowning. He grabbed the rope, and we brought him into the boat. We patted him on the back and everyone was smiling, but we were not sure he fully understood. Pointing to the picture of the sea, we pointed back to the man’s thoughts and motioned it was no good. Man is drowning in the sea, because he is no good. Pointing to the picture of Jesus and then to the man in the boat I motioned that Jesus throws the buoy or rope to you.

If Leong understood Jesus was throwing the lifeline, he also needed to understand the importance of taking hold of it. The next picture we used showed Jesus beckoning to a man from an open door.

We decided to dramatize this also. Everybody sat down and I went to the door of the room. From there I motioned to Leong to look at the picture of Jesus at the door. I pretended I was Jesus standing at the door. Then I went behind the door and closed it. After a moment, I opened the door and pointed to one of the people sitting in the chairs, motioning to him to come. The person asked, “Me?” I nodded, “Yes, you, come!” So, he came and went through the door behind me, and I closed the door. A moment later I opened the door and did the same with someone else. I kept doing this until I had invited all the people in the room, including my children, to come in through the door. They all stood behind me, as I closed the door. I left Leong for last. He was left alone in the room.

Now when I closed the door this time, I kept it shut. Leong was waiting for the door to be opened. We knew he must be getting anxious. I kept the door closed and Leong waited and waited. When the door did not open, Leong began to panic and he came over to the door and knocked on it. I opened the door and I motioned, “You come?” He nodded, “Yes,” and he walked through the door. I said, “Amen!” I thought he understood it. Had we gotten Leong to see what salvation was? Did he understand it? Was he able to truly understand it enough to be saved?

Drawing to a close, I used a picture of a man walking out of darkness into light. It showed a change in the man. It showed how he was dark and gloomy with a sad face, and his eyes were desperate for something. Then it showed how the man walked through the door where Jesus was and how he changed and became light and there was a smile on his face. Even his clothes were different and everything was in color, not just black and white. The last picture we showed him was of a man on his knees beside a bed praying. As he was praying, he was looking up to Heaven which was opened with a ray of light that was shining on the man as he was praying.

I went back to the picture of men dying and coffins falling into hell and pointed to Leong, signing “must die, hell, die, hell.” I had saved one picture until the end that showed two roads, one leading to hell, the other to Jesus standing at the open door of heaven. We showed him one road and motioned “one road to Jesus, Cross, Heaven.” Then we showed him the other road and motioned “road to hell.” I looked right at Leong and motioned, “Which road?” He signed, “Me, Heaven.” I looked right at Leong and motioned, “Which road?” He signed, “Me, Heaven.” I showed him the picture of a man kneeling down praying to Heaven. I pointed to the picture of Jesus standing at the door and indicated the man is praying to Jesus Who is inviting people to come to Him. I pointed to my head and asked, “You think Jesus (and I showed him a picture of Jesus) died on the cross?” I formed a cross with two index fingers and showed nail prints in my hand. Then I asked, “You, Heaven?” He responded, “Yes.” I asked, “You think Cross, Heaven, no hell (I signed for flames coming out of the fire). You want ‘Cross, Heaven’ or you want ‘die, hell?’” He motioned, “Me want Cross, Heaven.”

I had done my best. I honestly felt Leong understood. Two days later he came back. He tried to tell me this story as best he could.

He said, “Me, home to bed, wrestled in my sleep. Think, book, pictures.” Then he got down on his knees and he said, “Me, pray, Cross, heart.” Then he pointed to Heaven. He said, “No die, no fire, no, me, Cross, heart, Heaven,” I was excited. I believe that Leong understood the plan of salvation and had received Christ as Savior the best he knew how. The God of all languages allowed us to show him in the way that he could understand.

We left Singapore in 1983. When we returned we found Lucas, our friend, and as we began to talk I asked about Leong. He said that Leong died six months ago. I remembered the day when Leong came back and said, “Me, Cross, heart, Heaven. No die, no fire. Me, Cross, heart, Heaven.”


Bob McLain and his family are now on the mission field pastoring a church and directing a deaf ministry in New Zealand.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 1991. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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