Inter-American Division, with Adventist Review staff,
A Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has announced plans to establish its first church for the deaf and hard of hearing as part of an Adventist world church initiative to reach an often-neglected community.
The church will be located in Portmore, a city near the Caribbean island’s capital, Kingston, that was chosen after consultations with the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, said Adrian Cotterell, who is responsible for special needs ministries for the Adventist Church’s Jamaica Union.
“We understand that the largest concentration of deaf and hearing impaired persons are in the Portmore area, and by the grace of God we’re going to have a vibrant church here,” Cotterell said in announcing the plans during an inaugural Day of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing organized by the Jamaica Union at the Portmore Adventist Church on July 9.
The church is to open in early October. The Adventist Church has 294,894 members in Jamaica, including 18 who are deaf in the Portmore area.
The Adventist world church is placing a new emphasis on special needs with the appointment last fall of Larry R. Evans as special assistant to the General Conference president responsible for taking steps to include those with disabilities in the mission of the church. Regional church leaders have taken notice, with the South American Division, for example, organizing a special evangelistic series that was live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube last month. The four-day program attracted more than 30,000 deaf viewers in Brazil and elsewhere.
In Jamaica, Cotterell said he shared the idea for the new church with Jamaica Union president Everett Brown while planning the Day for the Deaf. Brown, he said, expressed immediate enthusiasm, and soon after the research and planning process began.
The church for the deaf will be a collaborative effort between the Jamaica Union and the union’s central and eastern regional conferences.
Communication barriers with deaf members in Jamaica have made it difficult for them to be as involved in church life as they would like, said Cotterell, who also serves as the Jamaica Union’s Sabbath School and personal ministries director. This has negatively affected their spiritual growth, he said.
The Day for the Deaf was organized as a starting point to bridge a gap between regular members and those with disabilities and also as a launching pad for community outreach to the hearing impaired.
Government and nongovernmental representatives along with people with disabilities attended the church service in support of the mission.
Labor and Social Security Minister Shahine Robinson underscored the importance of making sure that the disabled were able to be part of everyday life.
“We want them to function with a sense of pride dignity and self-worth,” Robinson said.
More than 30,000 people in Jamaica have some form of hearing impairment, according to the Jamaica Association for the Deaf. Jamaica has a population of 2.7 million.
In his sermon, Brown used the story of the blind man recorded in John 9 and the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to illustrate the proper Christian response to those with special needs.
“They know we are Christians by our love, not by the way we dress or preach or worship, but through our concern for people showing compassion, kindness, patience, respect, and love,” Brown said. “Valuing the dignity of people irrespective of their state in life is our true test of character as Christians.”
A second sermon — delivered in sign language and through an interpreter — was by Jeff Jordan, a deaf pastor from the U.S. state of Georgia who was recently named honorary associate coordinator for deaf ministries for the Adventist world church. Jordan emphasized the value that God places on the deaf and encouraged both the deaf and hearing to accept Jesus.
In an interview, Jordan applauded the special needs ministries that have been launched by the General Conference and the Jamaica Union, and he urged every church member to learn sign language to remove communication barriers between those with hearing and the deaf.
Ivareen Burton, one of several deaf and hearing impaired people from the community who attended the worship service, said she had visited Adventist churches several times before but especially appreciated this service.
“I really enjoyed the deaf pastor,” she said. “He told us about his life story, which was good. Also when those with hearing sang, it was really inspiring. I like it when the deaf and the hearing can come together and minister like that.”