Twenty-five deaf people were recently baptized in the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s first deaf baptisms in Burundi as church members step up efforts to share the gospel with the hearing impaired across East Africa.
A total of 27 people were baptized during a joyous ceremony at the Kamenge Seventh-day Adventist Church in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, on March 25. In addition to the 25 deaf people, the baptismal candidates included a blind person and a hearing person.
The baptismal candidates gathered at the front of the church to take the baptismal vow before entering the waters of the baptismal tank last Sabbath. Afterward, they returned to the front of the church to wave their arms in praise of God.
Eric Steven Nsengiyumva, evangelism director for the Burundi Union Mission, wept as he watched the proceedings at the Kamenge church.
“I dimly looked around me as I shed tears of joy, and I saw other people shedding tears like me”
“I dimly looked around me as I shed tears of joy, and I saw other people shedding tears like me,” Nsengiyumva said. “It is obvious that God is definitely purposed to doing a great and marvelous job in special needs ministries in Burundi.”
Kamenge is the first Adventist church in Burundi to offer sign-language interpretation for the deaf.
The baptisms are largely the result of the work of a deaf Gospel Outreach worker named Janvier Nkurikiye, church leaders said. Gospel Outreach is a supporting church ministry that sponsors Bible workers in 50 countries worldwide.
“Janvier has done a very good work in Burundi within a very short time, and we need to pray for him,” said Paul Muasya, who attended the baptismal ceremony and serves as special needs ministries coordinator for the East-Central Africa Division, whose territory includes Burundi.
Nkurikiye beamed as he watched the baptisms on Sabbath.
Local church elder Richard Mutahi marveled at how much Nkurikiye has accomplished in the months since the two first met at an Adventist deaf camp in Kenya. “We thought it was just happenstance that saw him attend the event,” he said. “But looking back, and taking into account all that has transpired since then, it’s easy to see the hand of God in all this.”
The Burundi baptisms come as the Adventist world church places a renewed emphasis on special needs under the leadership of Larry R. Evans, special assistant to the world church president responsible for taking measures to include those with disabilities in the mission of the church. Among other things, Evans oversaw the debut of Hope Channel Deaf, the church’s first television channel for the hearing impaired, in December 2016.
Evans expressed delight with the baptisms in Burundi. “This is not only exciting as we enter new unreached areas for special needs ministries but also one more sign as to how the Lord is opening door after door for this ministry,” he said.
He was echoed by Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson. “What a great way to start out the new week by receiving a report like this!” Wilson said in response to an e-mailed report and photos of the Burundi baptisms. “What a blessing to look at the joy on Janvier’s face as he sees God’s blessing on his work. What a privilege to see the picture of those precious souls raising their hands for the baptismal vow. Praise God! This is truly Total Deaf Involvement!”
At least 191 deaf people have been baptized across the East-Central Africa Division in recent months, Muasya said. Forty-five deaf people were among the 73,188 people baptized at evangelistic meetings at 4,000 sites across Kenya on March 18. In addition, 98 deaf people were baptized at an annual camp meeting for the deaf in Kenya in August 2016, and 23 deaf people were baptized recently in Uganda. More deaf people are expected to be baptized later this year at deaf-oriented camp meetings and other events in Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
“We need to use the great opportunities that have opened up for the church among the deaf and other special needs people before it’s too late,” Muasya said. “For sure, special needs ministries is a ministry whose time has come.”