Deaf people around the world are isolated and oppressed but can be united in faith, according to Beth Lockhard, pastor of Christ the King Deaf Church, West Chester, Pa.
On this foundation, the Evangelical Lutheran Deaf Association (ELDA) mission team has built a partnership with the Jamaica Christian School for the Deaf since 2012.
“The deaf community relates to and cares deeply about other deaf people around the world regardless of sign language used or faith practiced,” Lockhard said. “We often share the same culture of life experiences so we understand each other. We are family. If we don’t reach out, who will? We are in a unique position to do so.”
ELDA is a group of deaf congregations, deaf ministries and members in the ELCA that works to support, educate and share information regarding deaf ministries.
Members of ELDA, along with hearing and deaf people from various denominations across the U.S., make annual trips to Jamaica to help lead a vacation Bible school. During their trip in September 2016, seven team members led vacation Bible school for 40 students while four team members finished work on a new library and computer rooms, which were dedicated in December.
The team also brought in nine, 50-pound bags of school supplies and library books donated by deaf ministries. Team members also trekked through the mountains to the Jamaica Deaf Village to distribute American Sign Language Bible storybooks and buy their crafts.
The vacation Bible school curriculum is developed to be “deaf friendly” so students benefit from a tailor-made program. The 2017 lesson will be about deaf children around the world.
“Some of the deaf people in other countries do not know that deaf people live in other countries,” said Dorothy Sparks, a deacon at Bread of Life Deaf Lutheran in Minneapolis. “They think that they are [the] only group of deaf people in the world. Sign language is not international.”
Lockhard, one of two women who lead the mission partnership, said everyone benefits.
“The school receives the school supplies they ask for, and the donors in the states feel the deep joy of giving to an organization that would not survive without outside support,” she said. “Admittedly, we felt unsure of doing this but have trusted God to lead us.”