Signs of Love: Adventist Church Dedicates First Deaf Congregation in Dominican Republic
- Deaf congregation has about 15-20 members. Rachel Marte Pierre, 17, was the first of the group to be baptized.
- Church members worked to reach the deaf community by taking sign language classes, organizing a youth group and coordinating transport to church services.
- There are approximately 98,000 people who are deaf in the Dominican Republic; one out of four deaf persons have no medical insurance, only 27% have received elementary schooling, and many do not have jobs.
02 June 2022 | From the Adventist News Network:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, through its Possibility Ministries in the Dominican Republic, recently dedicated the first congregation specifically for the deaf in southeastern Santo Domingo, the country’s capital. Currently, the church has an average of 15–20 deaf individuals coming every Saturday morning for church service.
The congregation is the result of the hard work of a group of young people and adult members of the church who wanted to reach out to the deaf community, said Lidia Pérez, Possibility Ministries director for the church in the Dominican Republic. The members took sign language training classes, organized a Master Guide youth group and developed other initiatives and ministries.
This project has meant more than just inclusion for deaf people, said Héctor Lizardo, a district pastor who ministers in the newly formed group. “They have found a support group that has become like a family. 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.”
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 the Ensanche Ozama sector in the eastern part of Santo Domingo. Church members reached out to the National School for the Deaf and the National Institute of Technical Professional Formation, which resulted in seven church members getting trained in sign language, said Lizardo.
Out of that training, Alcántara began to teach sign language to 50 people as part of the project, including those seven interpreters, he said. In 2019, a group was formed with three deaf young people who took part in a Master Guide camporee in the east 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 deaf people are receiving Bible studies, and leaders expect others to make their decision for baptism by the end of the year.
But there are many more to reach, said Lizardo.
According to the National Disability Council in the Dominican Republic, there are approximately 98,000 deaf people in the country. Based on a survey conducted by the U.S. Embassy, one out of four deaf persons there have no medical insurance, only 27% have received elementary schooling, and many do not have jobs.
Church leaders are hoping to establish vocational centers for the deaf where they can learn several technical or vocational skills at accessible locations all over the city, said Lizardo.
The church has provided food and clothing for them, and is working on raising funds to guarantee the transportation to church services of 15 deaf individuals across the city. The congregation includes 10 volunteers, mostly young people aged 13–25, who coordinate, lead the programs, and connect with the deaf congregation every week.
Lizardo said they are preparing to receive children and older adults, as well as those who are blind-deaf-mute. There are also plans to start Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs soon.
The dream is to have at least one exclusively deaf congregation in each of the conference regions, and eventually, have every church be accessible and able to serve the deaf, as well as those with other disabilities, said Lizardo.
“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,” said Lizardo. “We want to continue to shed light in this ministry and enlist as many church members to be involved in reaching persons with special needs in our communities.”
At the deaf congregation’s dedication on April 2, 2022, Rachel Marte Pierre, 17, was the first deaf person in the group to get baptized.
“I feel so happy to get baptized today,” said Marte Pierre. “I understand everything said in church.”
This article was edited by AT staff.
(Photo: Rachel Marte Pierre, 17, smiles after being baptized by Pastor Gabriel Paulino on April 2, 2022. Marte Pierre is part of the Dominican Republic’s first deaf congregation, and is the first deaf person in the group to get baptized. Photo by Southeast Dominican Conference via ANN.)