Newlyweds Vincent* and Sofia* held on in the back of a police Jeep as it charged through side streets and alleys at top speed.
In hot pursuit rode a pack of angry men on motorcycles. The policemen in the Jeep shouted at the bikers to stop, but to no avail.
Frightened, Sofia gripped Vincent’s arm tightly. Where were they going? What would to happen to them?
The Jeep screeched to a halt. The cops jumped out, confronted the bikers and slapped two of them. Seeing this, the mob grew larger and angrier — outnumbering the police and the couple they were protecting.
Sofia couldn’t hear what was being shouted by people around them. Neither could Vincent.
How could they? They were both Deaf.
This South Asian couple’s love story involved a surprise calling, family drama and now a Bollywood-style chase scene. To understand it all, we’ll need to step back a bit.
Today, in an overpopulated city, Vincent, 36, and Sofia, 28, live in a typical micro apartment. Their 8-by-10-foot living space includes a tiny drawing room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom with a ceiling so low you need to squat to take a shower. On the drawing-room wall hangs a painting of Jesus and His disciples catching fish with their nets. Among the fish, people reach out to be caught as well. Luke 5:10 is quoted: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”
Vincent and Sofia came here two years ago to work as missionaries, because the state has close to 1 million Deaf people. Vincent leads a team of sign language storytellers. Using the Chronological Bible Stories (CBS), they share Scripture in sign language, visiting homes and inviting people to CBS Bible study sessions around the city.
Ask the couple how they met and they both grin.
Vincent was born Deaf to a family that followed a traditional religion of the region. He became a Christian at age 25 after a Deaf friend shared the Gospel with him. However, he had several bad experiences with churches and disagreeing with what was being taught. He became so disillusioned that he promised himself never to be involved in a church again.
About that time, some D.O.O.R. (Deaf Opportunity Outreach) International missionaries invited him to one of their churches. Though initially reluctant because of his past experiences, Vincent decided to attend a service. He found the teaching style interesting as it was done in proper sign language. He began accompanying the missionaries wherever they went, hearing them share Bible stories and minister to other Deaf people. His Christian faith renewed, he offered his help for any of DOOR’s evangelistic efforts. In time, he became an expert CBS storyteller.
Sofia was also born Deaf, in another city, to a family who followed another major religion. When she was 21, a Deaf friend invited her to church for the first time. She enjoyed being there and started attending regularly. Soon, unbeknownst to her family, she became a Christian and was baptized.
“I was someone who was scared about everything in life,” Sofia says. “I used to have this sacred thread tied on my wrist, which was believed to ward off evil spirits. But going to church regularly changed my life. I started experiencing positivity and met people who cared about me. People were supporting me and praying for me. Eventually I gave my life to Jesus and removed the thread.”
Sofia had always dreamed of experiencing life in faraway places. But her world seemed confined to her city. Then a DOOR missionary introduced Sofia to Vincent. He had heard about her struggles. They started conversing regularly on Skype in sign language.
“I was really fascinated by his experiences,” Sofia recalls.
Before long, Vincent asked her if she would consider marrying a missionary.
“I can’t decide so quickly,” she replied. “I’ll pray and tell you a decision.”
A week later, she said yes. But there was a hurdle: getting permission from Sofia’s parents. Vincent went with a friend with the proposal, but her parents flatly refused. Vincent and his friend were preparing to leave when, in front of her parents, Sofia signed to Vincent: “Don’t worry. I will marry you.”
Her parents’ approval now out of question, Sofia decided to marry Vincent secretly. On May 2, 2011, she sneaked out of the house and took a long bus ride to the church, all alone.
Vincent had arranged for the wedding at the church. As soon as the ceremony was over, they took the next available train to Vincent’s hometown. Someone phoned Sofia’s parents and told them that she was now married. Positive that there would be attempts to trace them, Sofia threw away her phone’s SIM card.
The next morning, upon reaching their destination, Vincent and Sofia registered their marriage in the government records. It was now official according to the law of the land: They were husband and wife.
Furious, Sofia’s parents filed a complaint with the police, claiming Vincent had kidnapped their daughter. The couple was summoned to the station back in Sofia’s hometown. As the officer didn’t know sign language, Vincent had to write his side of the story.
“It was a conversation lasting five pages, where I explained to him that we were Christians and had been married at a church, following all legal procedures,” Vincent recalls. “I showed him the marriage certificate as well as the certificate from the church.”
The officer was convinced, and told Sofia’s parents that their complaint wasn’t valid. Her dad asked to see her. The officer agreed and asked Sofia and Vincent to go meet her parents.
However, during these proceedings, news had spread that Sofia and Vincent had arrived in town. The whole community was agitated and a crowd of men came and surrounded the police station. The police officer tried to calm and disperse the crowd. But it seemed hopeless.
Among Sofia’s relatives was a prominent politician. He called the officer and pressured him to let Sofia go back to her parents and to send Vincent away. Vincent refused, writing on a piece of paper, “We are legally married. The police have to protect us.”
Now the officer was confused. He phoned the mobile court to help solve the problem.
As soon as the judge arrived, the couple and Sofia’s parents were asked to go in alone and talk to him. Everyone else had to stay outside.
There was no one to interpret for Vincent and Sofia in sign language. It was their first time being in front of a judge and they were nervous. “God help us,” they both prayed.
The judge wrote his questions for Sofia and Vincent and verified the marriage certificates. Sofia’s parents alleged that the certificates were fake and the claim of the couple being Christians was a ruse.
Toward the end of the proceedings, the judge wrote to Sofia, “Were you kidnapped by this man?”
“No, I came out of my own will,” she responded.
“Who do you want to go with, your dad or Vincent?” he asked.
Sofia wrote her response: Vincent.
The judge read it and declared that Sofia was free to go with her husband. He told the police to protect them.
Sofia’s father was fuming and unwilling to accept the verdict. He threatened Vincent and had to be escorted away. The mob outside grew, surrounding the compound. They warned the policemen they wouldn’t leave unless Sofia returned with them.
As the men moved closer, the police officer yelled, “Stop following us! We have court orders to protect this couple.” But they replied, “We are the local leader’s men. If you don’t support us, you will be in trouble.”
The officer called his superior who advised him to return to the headquarters immediately with the couple. Now there seemed to be no escape.
Back at the station, the superintendent of police had arrived. He told them that in this situation, it would be best for the couple to separate. They refused. The mob shouted outside. The policemen took pictures of the couple and warned Vincent, “If anything happens to this girl, you will be in trouble.”
The policemen waited until the gang outside became inattentive. Then they grabbed Vincent and Sofia, pushed them inside their vehicle again and drove away. A couple of bikers followed, but the cops soon lost them. As they neared the district border, they spotted a car with people returning from a wedding. The car was covered in flowers. The policemen instructed the driver to take Vincent and Sofia as far away from this place as they could go.
The wedding car took them to a town about a couple of hours away from where they had stopped. The family in the car bought them some food and offered their home to stay the night. The next day, Vincent and Sofia took a train from there to Bangalore. They had planned their wedding reception there that very evening and so arrived just in time to be able to attend it. Despite the previous day’s anxieties, they smiled throughout and shared their story to their Deaf friends gathered.
Vincent’s and Sofia’s early years of ministry as a couple were tough. Sofia had to learn the sign language of other states, which was a challenge. With Vincent’s help she slowly learned to tell Bible stories in different sign languages. DOOR leaders trained and mentored them.
The couple later moved to the city where they now live, to start ministry in that state. To reach interior parts of the state, or the next major town, Vincent has to take long rides by train or bus. During the monsoon season, floods make it hard to commute and meet the Deaf at their homes. Walking through knee-high water, holding an umbrella in one hand, Vincent goes from door to door. He often faces rejection, as the Deaf don’t accept his message easily. Sofia started a women’s group for the Deaf, where she taught them life skills. This became a platform for her to tell Bible stories.
The work is difficult, but they’ve seen progress.
“God is a good God,” Vincent says. “In two years, along with a few other missionaries, we have set up six different churches in the state with 859 members.”
That’s thanks in part to the CBS, which Vincent says is easier for Deaf people to understand than a regular, printed Bible because it involves visuals, feelings and emotions. The crucifixion story is a favorite among new Deaf believers. The fact that Jesus was silent, not reacting to the floggings and ill treatment, influences them.
“All of them exposed to the CBS say that it is good, better than anything else they have experienced,” he says. “They claim ownership over it because it’s in sign language.”
Vincent and Sofia want to stay a few more years and help establish more churches through the CBS Bible studies.
“The first thing I need to do is study the Word, apply it to my own life and then show it to the Deaf,” Vincent says. “They will listen only when they see God’s Word change me first.”
In 2013, two years after their great escape, Vincent and Sofia got a Skype call from Sofia’s mom, who had found Vincent’s contact ID. She was visibly sad and missed her daughter. They spoke for a while and at the end of the call, she asked, “Where are you both staying now? Give me your address.”
The couple, though hesitant, gave her their address.
The very next week, Sofia’s parents and a couple of their relatives – including the politician —came to their house with a supply of goodies and sweets from her hometown. The first thing Sofia did on seeing her mom was to hug and cry on her shoulder for several minutes. Her dad joined in the embrace. It was an emotional time for everyone. Vincent just stood by in silence, watching and smiling. He could sense a tear coming too.
After everyone settled down, Sofia’s dad turned to Vincent and asked, “Do you have a job?” Vincent replied, “I am a teacher.” Next question: “Do you earn well?” “Yes, enough,” Vincent signed with a smile. Vincent wasn’t sure if he should mention that they were missionaries. But, he noticed Sofia’s dad scanning the room and reading the Bible verses pasted on the wall. He seemed to accept that his daughter really was a follower of a new faith.
They ate together and stayed the night with them. “You must come back to our hometown at least once more,” Sofia’s parents said before leaving.
Vincent and Sofia did go back. Sofia’s parents gave them some money and gold jewelry as a gift, signifying a truce. Her family had truly forgiven her.
Vincent and Sofia looked at each other, treasuring the moment and thanking God for another prayer answered.