Pastor Recognized for 30 Years of Ministry to Deaf Congregation
High fever took H. Bill Gipple’s hearing at age three, but in Gipple’s family, skipping church wasn’t an option. He understood nothing; in the 1950s churches didn't offer interpreter. Even so, throughout his childhood, his mother made him go to church and sit there.
But neither did his family understand the liturgical service: It was all in Latin.
Gipple became a self-described “full blown long-haired hippie” who in 1970 began studies at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf. For six months, Gipple’s friend at the Rochester, New York, school invited him to a revival service. At first Gipple mocked him. Then he went.
“I got the Holy Spirit, and it changed my life,” says Gipple, 72, who hadn’t been searching. His physical changes that included a bright face plus spiritual and emotional changes that amazed him and others who saw the differences. But the supernatural manifestation didn’t stop there.
“Not only did I actually speak in tongues, but I heard myself, a Deaf man, speaking in tongues,” he says.
Gipple was 19 years old.
The Lord then called him to pastor. After graduating from Central Bible College in 1976, he went on to serve 16 years as lead or associate pastor at two California Deaf churches before become lead Deaf pastor of Orange County Deaf Church part of Orange County First Assembly in Santa Ana, California.
Gipple has been part of the AG Deaf National Multi-Cultural Fellowship for 30 years, 16 of which he served as vice president. In the 1990s, he served three years he served as the North America Representative for World Deaf Assemblies of God. His heart calling is shepherding the Deaf, mentoring the denomination’s pastors and beyond.
In July, Orange County First Assembly of God honored Gipple for 30 years of pastoring the Orange County flock. General Superintendent Doug Clay, who has learned some American Sign Language and had connected with Gipple at other AG gatherings, attended the milestone celebration.
In 2012, the United States’ Deaf population was 27.7 million. According to Emory K. Dively, founder and president of the World Deaf Assemblies of God Fellowship and AG Deaf National Multi-Cultural Fellowship, 62 Deaf churches are AG-affiliated. More than 1,000 hearing AG churches in the United States provide interpreter services for the Deaf. Eight AG U.S. Missions workers minister to the Deaf as do 17 through Assemblies of God World Missions.
Deaf pastors note the ministry challenges. Deaf congregations are small, typically in the low double-digits. Gipple began ministry as nearly all ministers to the Deaf: bi-vocational. For a season he worked three jobs including a newspaper delivery route and at a bank to support his family. Gipple’s position as Orange County Deaf pastor is a full-time church employee, which is rare.
Over his decades of ministry, he’s found that his challenges stemming from deafness have helped him share Jesus. One supernatural encounter happened in a Florida town where a teacher at a Deaf school who practiced voodoo invited Gipple to his home where several voodoo witches were present. Gipple, who is non-verbal, took his hearing girlfriend along.
She was terrified. The stench of burning sage was horrific. The place was full of black magic symbols. The teacher’s aggressive German shepherd snarled at them. “I wasn’t scared. The Lord had anointed me with confidence,” Gipple says. “I started telling them about Jesus.”
As Gipple began sharing the gospel with the witches, the girlfriend heard the dog start whimpering and cowering. Gipple wasn’t aware that he had stopped signing and began to speak with his voice.
“My girlfriend said, ‘You’re speaking, and you don’t sound Deaf!’” Gipple recollects. “I had no idea God was speaking through me.”
Gipple, who knows only American Sign Language (ASL), led a US Deaf mission to Nicaragua’s AG-planted school for the Deaf in Managua, where the native children and adults only knew Nicaraguan sign language. His first day he picked up only a few words in the language. But the next day when he began to preach, although the school had an ASL interpreter, Gipple discovered the Lord had given him the ability to preach and speak in Nicaraguan and needed no interpreter.
“I didn’t learn it overnight,” he says. “The people there were fascinated and in awe.”
Debbie K. Stiles, pastor of Austin Spirit of Life Deaf Church in Austin, Texas, met Gipple in 1980 and has connected with him through the decades since then in national AG Deaf leadership. “Bill (Gipple) has been a wonderful pastor and shepherd,” Stiles says. While smartphones, livestreaming and Zoom technology have made video a readily available tool that’s reduced costly travel that Deaf ministry once entailed, Gipple still flies across the country and the world as needed to encourage and mentor ministers.
“He is deeply committed to seeing Deaf souls eternally adding to the kingdom of God,” Dively says. “He has a unique ability to unify Deaf churches and pastors, especially in California.”