The Seventh-day Adventist Church, through its Possibility Ministries in the Dominican Republic, recently dedicated the first congregation specifically for the hearing impaired in that country. The ceremony drew church leaders, member volunteers, and more than 35 hearing-impaired people to celebrate and to witness the first in the group to get baptized, on April 2, 2022.
“The message of God is for every person, and as a church we have the responsibility to deliver this message of salvation using all of the means available so they all can understand and accept it in their lives,” Lidia Pérez, Possibility Ministries director for the church in the Dominican Republic, said. The congregation’s organization is the result of the hard work of a group of young people and adult members of the church, who have been in favor of working for the hearing impaired in the community, she said. “There have been sign language training classes and the organization of a Master Guide youth group among other initiatives and ministries,” Pérez said.
Filling a Great Need
During the keynote message of the ceremony, Gabriel Paulino, president of the Adventist Church in the Southeast region, praised the work of the committed church members for their dedication to bringing the hearing-impaired congregation together. “It is a high honor to dedicate this church group,” Paulino said. “This fills a great need in our population, thanks to God,” he said, as he reassured the group of the church’s full support in the new ministry with the congregation.
Seeing Raquel Marte Pierre, 17, getting baptized means a wonderful blessing and accomplishment, Héctor Lizardo, a district pastor who ministers in the newly formed hearing-impaired group, said.
“I feel so happy to get baptized today,” Marte Pierre said minutes before she was baptized. “I understand everything said in church.”
The church sees an average of 15 to 20 hearing impaired individuals every Saturday (Sabbath) morning for church service.
Bringing Meaning to Their Lives
The project has meant more than just inclusion for deaf people, Lizardo said. “They have found a support group that has become like a family,” he said. “We have worked on letting them feel understood, loved, and accepted, and most of them have shared how being part of this congregation has brought meaning to their lives.”
The group has not been established as a church officially, but the conference made arrangements to dedicate the group as a special congregation as a result of the ongoing efforts to minister to the hearing-impaired community during the past four years, Lizardo said.
In 2017, talks began on how to reach the deaf community with the help of Kariela Alcántara, a special needs teacher and Adventist youth leader in Santo Domingo. “We began to reach out to the director of the National School for the Deaf and the National Institute of Technical Professional Formation and established a collaboration with the conference to train people in sign language, which resulted in seven trained church members,” Lizardo explained.
Out of that training, Alcántara began to teach sign language as part of the project with 50 people, including those seven interpreters, he said. Little by little more deaf individuals in the community were included in the project, and in 2019 a group was formed with three deaf young people who took part in a Master Guide camporee in the eastern region of the country. After the height of the pandemic, a group of 30 young deaf people signed up to be part of a special Master Guide camporee in the region in November 2021.
Today, with the help of interpreters and church members, two dozen of the hearing-impaired group are receiving Bible studies, and leaders expect others to make their decision to be baptized by the end of the year.
Many More to Reach
There is a vast need, Lizardo said. The church has assisted in providing food and clothing, as well as offering transportation from homes or at the bus station to the Sabbath services. But there are many more to reach, he said.
According to the National Disability Council in the Dominican Republic, there are approximately 97,735 persons who are deaf. “There are many areas of need that turn into opportunities to assist in a positive way as a church,” Lizardo said. Among those multiple needs, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Embassy in the country among some 74,732 homes where there are deaf persons, one out of four has no medical insurance, only 26.8 percent have received elementary schooling, and many do not have jobs, he said.
“This is not because there is lack of training but because they are deaf, and it’s a great opportunity for the church to establish a vocational center where they can learn several technical or vocational skills at accessible locations no matter where they live in the city,” Lizardo said.
Leaders are working on raising funds to guarantee the transportation to church services of 15 deaf people spread across the city. Although the meeting place has a maximum capacity of 60, the plan is to grow the church and rent a locale that could house 100 people and eventually build a church with plenty of rooms for teaching sign language and vocational courses.
Getting Members Involved
The group is being viewed as a pilot program to establish more deaf congregations across the island, Lizardo said. “Our dream is to have at least one congregation in each of the conference regions as part of having an exclusive church for the deaf but also to include this group as part of our church culture and eventually have every church be accessible and catering to the hearing impaired and others with special needs.”
The congregation includes 10 member volunteers — mostly young people ages 13 to 25 — who coordinate, lead the programs, and connect with the hearing-impaired group every week. “We are preparing to receive children and adults and also to invite those who are blind-deaf-mute,” Lizardo said. The plan is to open Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs soon, he said.
“Everything accomplished so far has been because of Jesus’ call to preach the message to every person, tribe, tongue and people, so that everyone can have the opportunity to be heirs of the blessings of God,” Lizardo said. “We want to continue to shed light in this ministry and enlist as many church members as possible to be involved in reaching people with special needs in our communities.”