Click here to print page

Video - Deaf haven: congregants happy for SDA space where they feel connected

Monday, November 11, 2019

REALISING that there was a significant need for a church that caters to people with disabilities, the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) launched its Deaf Church in Portmore, St Catherine.

Four years on, the congregation continues to grow, moving from eight members to 30. Overall, the church caters to some 75 with an average, 35 to 40 worshippers on a given Sabbath.

Pastor serving at the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Adrian Cotterell shared with the Jamaica Observer that the Deaf Church was established on November 12, 2015, because there was a strong passion and desire to minister to individuals with special needs.

And it was only fitting, he said, that it be launched in Portmore, which, according to him, was home for the largest number of deaf people in the country at the time.

Its construct makes it one of a kind in Jamaica and the entire inter-American division, Cotterell stated.

Though noticeably different, service was not without the routine praise-and-worship session or the Word, when the Observer visited last Saturday.

Absorbed in worship, their hands super-expressive, and those who could partially hear singing to the high heavens, congregants were fed spiritually.

An interpreter visually connected with those in attendance through body language, facial expressions, and sign language structure.

It took Kayon Tulloch years to find a church that catered to her needs.

“First I went to a different church in Portmore. When I was there I couldn't hear anything and there was nobody there to tell me or interpret anything for me. When Pastor [Coniel] Morgan met me, he asked me to join this church. When I came here, my first time was very interesting. I've been coming here almost two years from when I got baptised and became a member,” Donett Ledford interpreted Tulloch as saying to the Observer.

“It is wonderful here. I meet a lot of deaf like myself and [also people who hear]. I enjoy it, being connected with the deaf,” she added.

Karona Biggs has been attending Deaf Church for four years.

She shared with the Observer that she finds it fulfilling.

She explained that, as a child, attending church, she struggled to understand what was happening around her.

Biggs said that it was her mother who eventually began interpreting the programme for her, though it still proved difficult for her to understand.

“I am happy to be here at this church. I like going to the Deaf Church. When I was small and growing up, I had no interpreter. Everything just flew over my head, but then my mother interpreted for me. [Eventually], my mother heard about this church and she told me about this church, and since then I visited for the first time and it was nice. I met some nice people who were wonderful and interesting and they accepted me.

“So, I started coming here and Pastor Morgan pick up all the deaf persons, and we meet here and he taught us a lot about God. We heard God's word and we understand, and he supports us and encourages us to come. I like it, and I appreciate it. When they teach me here I learn a lot, and it stays with me for the future. Then I got baptised and I became a Christian...My husband is hearing, but both of us are here together, and I have a daughter also and they (Deaf Church community) support my family,” Ledford interpreted Biggs as saying.

Morgan, the pastor for Deaf Church, describes it as a new ministry, where leaders learn how to deal with congregants as time progresses.

“One of the things we have to do is love the people. We love them and we build their confidence. You don't just do it because you want to gain them, but you do it out of a genuine heart. It requires patience, it requires skill, and it requires time and passion for the ministry,” Morgan told the Observer.

He added that dealing with people with special needs takes time, effort and resources.

Morgan explained, for example, that the church transports members from home to church and back, feeds them, and sometimes provides clothing and other types of support.

“Many of them are without jobs and their education level is not where it ought to be. Their learning curve is a little bit different from the persons who hear. So we physically go and find them and ensure that we provide opportunities for them. Currently, we have engaged the different services [with] Jamaica Association for the Deaf and through the Government [and] we have also initiated, through partnership that the Government, work programmes for the deaf. We have already placed some of them through Jamaica Association for the Deaf, and with the Government service some of them have gained employment. So, it's going to take a lot of resources,” said Morgan.