“She was a spitfire,” Michelle said. “She just had this personality — nine times out of ten she was smiling. She was just always happy.”

“She lit up a room,” Jonathan added. “But she was so, so ready to go to Heaven. The week that she died, she told us… ‘I’m going to go to sleep, and I’m going to wake up in Heaven.’ And the next morning I went into her room… I could tell she was still breathing… she kinda squinted and looked at me, and she slapped the bed, and she’s like, ‘You’re not Jesus!’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not Jesus.’ And three or four days later, she died and she woke up and she did see Jesus.”

It’s been three years since Edyn Grace Claudia Walterhouse, daughter of Jonathan and Michelle Walterhouse, went to be with her Lord.

Edyn was born February 28, 2008 in Peru. In 2010, Jonathan and Michelle — who at that point had two biological sons, JP and Levi — were looking to adopt. Jonathan, an elder at Fellowship, was a missionary kid in Mexico during his formative teen years, so they knew they wanted to adopt from a Spanish-speaking country. They’d talked with a couple at Jonathan’s brother’s wedding who “happened” to be adopting from an orphanage in Peru, and so the decision was made. The Walterhouses began the process late that year. “Peru is a really difficult country to adopt from. They make changes all the time, and it just prolongs the process,” Michelle explained. Edyn officially became a Walterhouse three years later, on December 5, 2013.

She was born premature and had congenital deafness as well as Cerebral Ataxia. “There were several stages, and into, I think especially like late 2014, 2015, that we really began to realize: ‘ok wait a minute, her muscle disease is going to be something that is going to ultimately…take her life,’” Jonathan said. “It was progressively degenerative,” Michelle added. They are no strangers to a child with a severe illness, though. Both of their sons had GI complications when they were infants, with their youngest son Levi having a near-death experience due to those complications before his first birthday.

Since Edyn was born very sick, her biological parents took her to the hospital, but in Peru, if the family is unable to pay the entire bill, the patient has to remain there. “So many children are left in the hospital, because their parents know that’s the best place for them, because they can’t pay the bill,” Michelle explained. “So she just automatically went to an orphanage, because her parents left her there.”

In addition to knowing where they wanted to adopt from, the Walterhouses also knew they wanted to adopt a child who was Deaf; in fact, the orphanage the couple had told them about was an orphanage for Deaf children. Jonathan and Michelle have both worked in Deaf ministry and evangelism for decades, so the Deaf community has always been a priority for them. Though their stories on how they got involved differ, their passion doesn’t.

Both of Jonathan’s parents are Deaf, and he and his younger brother are hearing. “So sign language is my first language.” His parents launched a Deaf ministry while the family was in Florida. Then, when Jonathan was a teenager, they moved to Mexico as missionaries to the Deaf community there. “By the time Mom and Dad sensed God calling, and we started the whole process, I was ecstatic… I think ultimately it was God calling me as well, as the oldest son in the family, to be along for the adventure, and so I got to help my parents in ministry. I led the children’s Sunday School class, and taught the kids; I preached for my dad a couple times, when he was sick or out of town.”

His time in Mexico also graduated him from being bilingual to being quadrilingual! “I got to learn Spanish and Mexican Sign Language at the same time, because sign language is different. You know, a lot of people think sign language is the same around the world, and it’s not. So, that was exciting.” Too, he enjoyed learning how to navigate and immerse himself in his new home. “I got to learn how to jump on the bus and ride the different bus systems in two different cities that we lived in in Mexico, riding the taxi and all of that. And so it was a really, really fun experience for me to learn a different culture. And I mean, not to mention, the food is incredible in Mexico. So, yeah, it was a lot of fun. But then most importantly, obviously, seeing Deaf people’s lives changed forever by the Gospel was really, really, a very special thing.”

Michelle’s family are all hearing, so her introduction to the Deaf community didn’t happen until high school. In ninth grade, she met a woman at her church who was Deaf, named Janet. Michelle didn’t realize that a few of her friends were actually Janet’s children, so they introduced her. She told Michelle — through the kids interpreting — that she brought her kids to church because she has a relationship with Jesus and wants her kids to as well. “And so I just fell in love with the language and just watching, and she said, ‘do you want me to teach you some sign?’ And so she started teaching me.”

From there, Michelle kept eagerly learning, and eventually she worked at a camp for Deaf children the summer before her senior year. It was a full language-immersion experience. It was also the first time that she, as a hearing person, was in the minority. “I knew enough that I could have basic conversations, but I mean, everyone’s Deaf, except for the few of us that were there all summer, that were there to learn.” Michelle already knew her calling after meeting Janet and watching her sign, but that summer further confirmed her vocation. “It is an experience I will never forget, to leave all the comforts of home and travel many states away. The ability to connect with God and those in the Deaf community have just been a vital part of God’s plan in my life.”

She attended Tennessee Temple University, which has since come under and merged with Carolina University, to get a degree in sign language interpreting. There, she met Jonathan, who was in the same program. With an aligned purpose of evangelizing to the Deaf, and after two years of dating, Jonathan and Michelle got married. This year, they celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary!

Since 2020, they’ve worked together on the Deaf Catalyst Team for Converge International Ministries. “Converge is focused on the least reached of the least reached around the world. And we know that Deaf people are the least reached of the least reached everywhere,” Jonathan explains. For example, he says that “there’s two million Deaf people in the U.S., and less than two percent of the Deaf people in the U.S. profess to be followers of Christ. And so, they’re a community that needs the Gospel everywhere. And the fact that there’s only one Bible in all of the world’s approximately 350 sign languages is also telling. And that wasn’t complete until 2020.”

Jonathan serves as one of the Deaf Catalyst Team Leaders, providing oversight and direction. Michelle works alongside him administratively and provides logistical support. Together with their team, they’re working to help Deaf believers around the world be equipped with the tools necessary to develop transformational leaders. “So Converge is obviously not the only organization pursuing the Deaf, but it’s one of a few organizations that are pursuing the Deaf with the Gospel,” he says.

Jonathan offers further insight into the dire global need for this mission work. “[There’s] 70 million Deaf people around the world, and 98% have little to no access to the Gospel. The International Mission Board Deaf Team estimates that 1,500 deaf people die every day around the world without access to the Gospel.”

Jonathan explains that intentional outreach to the Deaf in this way — through sign in the person’s native sign language — is critically important. A prime reason is because even though the Gospel may be available in the written language, that might not always be beneficial. “Many Deaf people don’t read on the same level that you and I do. Even a Deaf person that’s graduated from high school. I think the Arkansas statistic is third or fourth grade reading level on average, even a high school graduate. And so if you think about that, they don’t process print text the way that you and I do. And also, how we learn to read is by the things we’ve heard, and we’ve already said dozens, hundreds of words before we pick up a book and start reading, you know. …So that’s part of the reason that Deaf people have not traditionally had access to the Gospel.”

Too, Jonathan says, it’s far more effective to meet the Deaf community where they’re at, rather than forcing them to “simply” adapt. “…Audiologists and doctors meaning well will often tell parents, ‘your child just needs to learn how to deal in the hearing world. So, let’s fix their hearing by putting a hearing aid on them, or by doing the cochlear implant or something like that, and we’ll fix their hearing.’ But the reality is they’ll never hear like you or I do. And therefore psychologically, physiologically, there’s things that they don’t get. And they just don’t fit in most of the time.”

Jonathan also explains that friends’ and family’s refusal to learn sign can lead to a breakdown in trust. In fact, Jonathan says trust is the greatest barrier between the hearing and the Deaf. They’re often the last one to know what the joke is or what the plan is or what’s going on — because it’s not a priority for the hearing person to learn sign to tell them. Jonathan says that buildup of mistrust can then influence their mentality regarding church. He explains that their thought process can start to become, “‘Why would I just trust the person standing on the stage telling me that I’m a sinner and I’m going to Hell?’ — through maybe an interpreter that’s halfway decent.”

All this leads Jonathan to expressing the importance of the mindset shift to doing Deaf ministry with Deaf people instead of for them. One such effort is the Jesus Deaf Film, in theaters June 20. “It’s a historic event,” Michelle says. “[The actors] are all Deaf. It’s for Deaf, by Deaf.” Jonathan adds, “We’re just ecstatic about that.”

While 2020 was an exciting time of ministry for the Walterhouses when they joined Converge, it was also the year that Edyn’s health took a steep decline due to the ataxia. She wasn’t fearful, though, but rather joyful as she looked forward to seeing her Savior. “She was so ready to meet Jesus. I mean, I have a video of her telling me everything she’s going to do when she gets to Heaven, like, ‘I’m going to eat guacamole. I’m going to have a remote control, I’m going to have an iPad, and I’m going to fold my laundry.’ Okay great, if we have to fold laundry in Heaven, then we’re going to have to have a conversation with the Lord,” Michelle joked. “I wish that I could face life the way she faced life. Like there was absolutely no fear.”

On May 28, 2021, Edyn’s faith became sight. “We had the opportunity to sing our girl to Jesus,” Michelle says. “We were having a worship service in our front room when she died. And, I don’t know, that was just one of the most precious and just honoring times to know that, to be absent from the body is present with the Lord… we were with our community and just praising our Savior when she took her last breath.”


There are no words when a parent has to bury a child.


Praise be to God, though, because as it says in 1 Thessalonians 4, we don’t grieve as those without hope. Jonathan and Michelle agreed that worship songs — particularly ones that mention Heaven — have a whole new depth of meaning to them now. “It just becomes more real,” Michelle says. “I just, I can visualize my daughter standing at the throne,” Jonathan says. “I’ll never sing some of those songs the same way again.”

For parents who have lost a child, Michelle emphasizes how vital it is to have your biblical community behind you, helping to meet needs and support you in your darkest hours. One such instance of this for her was the group of foster and adoptive moms, of which she is a part, that rallied around her family and stepped in in a big way to help plan the celebration of life for Edyn. Jonathan also encourages parents in that unfathomable circumstance to “be real with God. Be real with other believers, and don’t listen to the lies, because the enemy wants to capitalize on those moments of darkness as well.”

The same goes for adoption, Michelle says. “Don’t shy away from the hard. Jesus didn’t shy away from the hard. And we are better because of it.” Jonathan agrees, adding, “it’s challenging, it’s hard, but it’s incredibly rewarding as well when you see the Spirit begin to bring hope into a child’s life who, at one point or another — maybe many points — thought there was no hope for them. …we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but we wrestle against principalities and powers and spiritual forces in dark places, like the enemy wants to keep these poor children in bondage and in darkness, and he wants their family cycle to continue, and that sort of thing. And so for a believer to step in and say, ‘no, I think God is calling me to love on this child, either through foster care or through adoption,’ the enemy’s not just gonna go, ‘yeah, okay, that’s fine, I’ll let this one go.’ Like, he’s gonna fight. …but at the same time, He who called you is faithful. …He will be faithful to provide for you. And His mercies are new every morning.”

As the Walterhouses reflect on the past three years since their daughter’s passing, Jonathan focuses on a beautiful blessing. He says that through this ministry that the Lord’s using to pursue the least reached of the least reached, “Edyn’s Grace’s story lives on.”