King had no special skills or training in working with the deaf. He had no personal experience with Deaf family members motivating him to see and care about this often overlooked community.
But he believed the gospel was for everyone. He believed that a good shepherd would leave the 99 to go after that one. And when he met people who didn’t have access to the church or the scriptures, he couldn’t give up. He devoted the rest of his ministry to reaching these people.
“He was a giant” noted Chad Entinger, a Deaf Christian who succeeded King as Director of Deaf Missions in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Because of Duane and his faithfulness to God, millions of deaf people and their families and friends in over 100 countries around the world have been touched by the gospel of Jesus!”
King was born outside of Skidmore, Missouri on November 9, 1937. His parents, Elza Cledith and Myrtle Lois Brown King, had four boys, and Duane was the youngest. He was raised in the Independent Christian Church and attended Nebraska Christian College with the intention of becoming a pastor.
King was first drawn to the music ministry. He joined a college quartet, first called the Lordsmen, then later the Watchmen, and toured the Midwest singing the bass parts of gospel songs. The Watchmen were popular at summer revivals, and King also learned to preach.
When he met a young woman named Peggy Carr who also belonged to the Independent Christian Church, also attended Nebraska Christian College, and was also an accomplished singer, his future and ministry seemed clear. The two married in 1961.
King took a job at First Christian Church Norfolk and began pastoring the congregation there, while still occasionally traveling with the Watchmen.
A couple who couldn’t go to church
Five years later, he invited a new couple to come to church around Christmas. It changed his direction forever.
“I pushed what I thought was a doorbell, but later learned it was a light,” King said. noted in an account of the pivotal encounter.
A woman came to the door and King started talking, but she just turned her palms away. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t hear his words.
The woman, Louise Booth, found a pencil and a pad of paper and invited King into the kitchen. There, the 29-year-old minister wrote his question to her and her husband, Emery Booth: “Why don’t you come to church?
Louise replied, “We can’t get anything from the church.
The realization was like a light that went on instead of a doorbell. Of course they can’t! thought the king. And there must be other people like that.
The pastor made the deaf couple an offer. “If you come to church,” he wrote on the pad, “I’ll learn sign language.”
Both Duane and Peggy King learned it, and the new skill opened up a ministry. A few years later, King took a position at the First Christian Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, near the Iowa School for the Deaf. The church supported him as he launched Deaf Missions and planted the Church of Christ for the Deaf in 1970.
The congregation was small—in 1972 there were about 30 regular members—but King preached the gospel, served communion, baptized new believers, visited the sick, and buried the dead, all in signs.
A church wedding once captured national attention when the Associated Press reported that the ceremony was silent. King asked a deaf man in sign language if he had taken a deaf woman to be his wife for better, for worse, for richer and for poorer.
King still traveled occasionally with the Watchmen, taking the opportunity to ask independent Christian churches in the Midwest to financially support deaf missions.
He and the staff of Deaf Missions also began developing materials for Deaf Christians. In 1979, the department published its first issue of Daily devotions for the deaf. The devotional was released on videotape, using Japanese technology that was just beginning to be available in the United States.
The mission has published a devotional for each day for the past four decades, updating the format as video technology has advanced. Today deaf devo is available as a smartphone app.
Vision for a Sign Language Bible
In 1981, Deaf Missions began a more ambitious project: translating the Bible into American Sign Language. King recruited Harold Noe, a Christian church minister with a doctorate in theology from Drew University and a local TV show for deaf children in West Virginia. Noe helped with Greek and Hebrew. King also recruited Lou Fant, a Baylor College graduate who became a pioneering educator and co-founder of the National Theater of the Deaf, as well as an actor who played a signature preacher on general hospital and little house on the prairie. Fant helped with ASL.
For a few years, the mission used video equipment from a local media company and then from an Omaha television station. However, when new owners purchased KMTV in 1987, Deaf Mission was forced to purchase its own equipment and build a studio to continue filming.
King found the money. And they continued. To him, it was just another “probortunity,” a word he told Chad Entinger he had made up to describe how God worked.
“God takes problems,” King said, “and turns them into opportunities.”
Entinger has compiled a list of King’s sayings, “Kingisms”, which state his philosophy of ministry:
- “If you cut too many corners, you’ll start going in circles.”
- “The return of Jesus is closer today than it was yesterday.”
- “An important part of prayer is the willingness to be part of the answer.”
The New Testament was translated into American Sign Language in 23 years. When it was finally finished, King was speechless.
“I’m thrilled,” he said, “beyond the way to put it.”
King retired in 2007, leaving the completion of the full version of American Sign Language to his successor. Entinger, with support from a network of Bible Societies and Bible Translation Ministries, led the translation to completion in 2020.
King attended a Bible Completion Celebration at Deaf Missions, but balked when he felt someone was giving him too much credit for the project that involved 53 deaf translators working over a 39-year period.
“If we succeed anyway,” he said. Recount an Iowa television station, sitting at his kitchen table with his family, “it was God working through us.”
King died on January 25. He is survived by his wife, Peggy King; daughter, Christine Clausen Cannon; and his son, JD King. At his request, they served ice cream at his funeral.