Imagine being in a country where you don’t speak the native language and can’t understand what locals say. Often, this is how you feel if you can’t hear, and in many cases, you can’t talk either. Deaf people face the reality of being foreigners in their own country when they don’t have someone to help them who knows how to interpret sign language.
Understanding that inclusion means thinking of everyone without showing favoritism, Seventh-day Adventist churches in Brazil and other countries have worked to increase accessibility for every member or guest. In São Gonçalo, a town near Rio de Janeiro, the results of those efforts were seen at the Alcântara Seventh-day Adventist Church on April 16, 2022, when eight people were baptized, including two deaf girls and a young man with autism.
Right on the building façade the Alcântara church has placed a sign reading, “This church has Libras interpreters available.” Libras is the name of the Brazilian Portuguese sign language system. What is more, at Alcântara, church members are encouraged to take sign language classes to assist those who need it.
It was through this inclusive ministry that Evely Cazé and Raiana Lins gave public testimony of their faith in God through the baptism performed by local pastor Cladson Rodrigues.
Cazé and Lins said they felt extremely accepted into that congregation. “The way members have embraced us makes this church environment very special,” they said.
On another note, Miguel Rodrigues, the autistic young man, has always shown his love for Jesus. He usually participates in the activities and is held in great esteem by the local Adventurers Club, of which he is a member. Having him participate in the local congregation’s activities created a support network for the boy’s family, which was welcomed at a time of mourning.
Pastor Rodrigues said it was a privilege for him to baptize these people. “It is an opportunity that the Adventist Possibilities Ministry allows us to baptize earnest and special people,” Rodrigues said, “whether they’re deaf, autistic, or have Down syndrome, as has been the case in the past. It is a great joy.”
Rodrigues explained that the Alcântara church has always worked to welcome all people. “We have this concern of reaching special people who also need to hear God’s message. Even I am trying to learn Libras to participate more in this ministry.”
On the same day, in the nearby town of Rio Bonito, a baptism also included people with disabilities. Not even his wheelchair prevented Clovis França from being baptized by immersion.
For local pastor Elison Abreu, baptizing França was a remarkable experience. “To be used by God as an instrument is fantastic!” Abreu said. “I keep seeing Clovis, who can’t stand up and yet made a special effort to go through that experience. I have no doubt that he returned home with the certainty of salvation in Christ Jesus.”
Ministry of Possibilities
Adventist Possibilities Ministry has been expanding across Brazil and other countries. According to church leaders, the ministry seeks to identify and eliminate the various types of barriers that can prevent someone from performing activities and roles as part of a faith community, regardless of physical, cognitive, or emotional limitations.
The ministry is focused on seven broad categories, including services for the deaf, the blind, those physically disabled, the emotionally and mentally handicapped, orphans and vulnerable children, widowers, and caregivers, church leaders reported. “The goal is to replace those labels that affect a person’s self-esteem, to replace them with trust, hope, and encouragement,” they said.