More than two hundred deaf persons, interpreters, and special needs ministries directors from across the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Inter-America gathered for the first territory-wide Congress for the Hearing Impaired.
The five-day event, held at Montemorelos University in North Mexico earlier this month, sought to reassure deaf members and friends that they are valuable to God and the church, and provided training to church leaders on strengthening special needs ministries in churches and communities.
“Disabilities are not a problem for God because God is the Creator of all of us and gives us abilities,” said Samuel Telemaque, Special Needs Ministries director for the church in Inter-America, as he addressed some 150 deaf persons in the audience. “Those abilities you have, the church needs today.”
The event, in collaboration with the church in North Mexico and Montemorelos University, was part of Inter-America’s long-term initiative to bolster special needs ministries across the territory since it was established four years ago, said Telemaque.
“The church in Inter-America is moving beyond awareness to create a new paradigm to help people with disabilities to appreciate their value and understand who they are in the sight of God, as they take an active part in the growth of the church,” explained Telemaque.
Larry Evans, special needs ministries director for the Adventist world church, spoke during the training event and restated that “the ministry is not about disabilities but possibilities for those with special needs.”
Evans applauded the work of the church in North Mexico for its advocacy of special needs ministries with the local government and across hundreds of churches. He also spoke highly of Montemorelos University for offering a course in interpreting to students and ensuring that every deaf student on campus can understand each class they take.
“We should begin at every Adventist University to involve students in the special needs ministries,” said Evans. He also praised the work in Inter-America for being exemplary in special needs ministries around the world church.
Monica Vera is an interpreter and has been employed by Montemorelos University to teach students to sign and assist deaf students on campus and outreach activities in the community. She was delighted to coordinate the event and provide activities to deaf persons and more training to her interpreter students and church leaders, spreading the word that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is inclusive of all people with disabilities.
“We wanted to train persons with hearing impairment to be evangelists to persons with their same disability and for interpreters to be more skilled and excited to keep working with them,” said Vera.
The 150 deaf attendees from across the Church in Mexico took part in fun activities, special lunches, musical performances and a communion service. Three were baptized during the event. Also, Montemorelos University offered a full scholarship to three deaf persons for the upcoming school year.
The event provided seminars for pastors and leaders on how to develop a culture of special needs in the church, from theology to principles to values and methods, how to evangelize the deaf in the community, sign language courses for pastors, caregivers, interpreters, and more.
International speakers included Jeffrey Jordan, associate director of Deaf Ministries for the Adventist world church and Taida Rovero, Director of Deaf Ministries in Spain.
Church leaders from Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Jamaica, Honduras, Colombia, Spain, and the United States took part in the event.
Francisco Javier Diaz, who is the national lay coordinator of the Adventist Deaf Ministry in Mexico, taught many to sign and perform the hymns he interpreted on video during the congress. He works as an interpreter for the deaf in Chiapas, Mexico, and is proud that the Adventist Church is moving forward in involving the hearing impaired in the life of the church. Diaz has also translated the Faith of Jesus in sign language and trains church members to use sign language back home.
Attendees brought up resolutions and requests for the church regarding strengthening special needs. The requests include a need for a full-time worker in every union, more biblical resources for the deaf, and providing experts on sign language, and the like.
Times have changed, and the church needs to move forward strengthening special needs ministries, emphasized Telemaque. “The church has to be committed to integrating the deaf into services and the life of the church,” he said.