During the last weekend of May 29-June 1, 2020, the second International Adventist Congress for the Deaf and Deaf-blind was anticipated by a large number of European Deaf Seventh-day Adventists. The first event, held in Seville, in 2016, had been successfully considered and many were looking forward to the second congress in 2020.
But the Congress was not exempt from the restrictions lockdowns attributed to the global coronavirus pandemic. Even though many were willing to attend the event, it was canceled, and many expressed their disappointment.
“We couldn't do otherwise, and we were greatly sorry to have to cancel,” affirmed Corrado Cozzi, Adventist Deaf Ministries International (ADMI) liaison from the Inter-European Region (EUD) of the Seventh-day Adventists.
One deaf person could not accept a total cancellation and had the brilliant idea of organizing a meeting online, albeit a very brief one (about one hour) to allow participants to exchange greetings and, perhaps, participate in a common program. “This was a challenge we considered carefully,” Cozzi said.
Finally, the EUD ADMI team thought that it would be a good idea to try to organize a special edition of the event. This was achieved thanks to the next-generation audio-visual technical support.
Targeted advertising was organized, inviting all Deaf that could attend, not only from the EUD territory but also abroad. The event took place on May 31, at 18:00 (Rome time zone), transmitted online via Zoom and played on ADMI Europe's Facebook page.
More than 220 participants were connected altogether, “and it was amazing to see all of them dialoguing with their friends, crossing the screen without disturbing the rest of the audience,” Cozzi shared, describing the experience.
This is a possibility that can be exploited only if you speak with your hands, the language of the deaf.
For this reason, the main theme was “Through my hands”.
The program was hosted by two sympathetic Deaf, Jitka Moravcova, the ideator of this online event, and Geoffrey Zobries. Both gave life to a nice dialogue between them, commentating on the program, and harmonizing the meeting by making the right connection from one intervention to another.
The program was formulated in such a way as to arouse interest from the public. Each speech was no longer than 8-10 minutes.
The guests were up to the task we had given them.
Larry Evans, ADMI Liaison at the General Conference of Adventists, invited the participants to trust in a God who does not abandon. “To all that are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God,” Evans said, “the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is the nearest.”
Jeff Jordan and Douglas Domingo Da Silva, two Deaf pastors, animated the theme of the event: Facing the Giants. In their commentary, inspired by the Biblical story of David and Goliath, they clearly shared how important it is to trust in God to overcome every challenge, to overcome one's own giants. “The only way that we can get victory is in a close relationship with God, the Father, with Jesus” Jordan affirmed, and Da Silva echoed the sentiment, challenging the participants: “David did not look at the size of the giant, but he did look at the size of his God. Of the God who created the world, waters and nature. Of the God who, besides this planet, also created several others, the sun, the moon, the stars. How big would God be? Certainly bigger than our problems. So, like David, we need to stop seeing our problems and start looking at the size of our God.”
Two special interventions enriched the program. Hanni Wöhler, Deaf German, recited a beautiful poem in German Sign Language inspired by The Creation Week, and Michael Geist, Deaf German, presented a magnificent song ... visually. A slide show entitled: Songs for the eyes. Both were very much appreciated.
The theme song, I'm not alone, presented in Italian Sign Language by Michela Dolce, leader for the Deaf in Italy, opened and then concluded the whole event.
An important part was managed by Taida Rivero, responsible for the Deaf Ministries in Spain: the interpreters.
One can imagine that with the presence of many nationalities, translation took on great importance. And so Taida “wove the tissue of this service”, monitoring European and South American interpreters.
“Sometimes, when we develop some work or service for the Church, we focus so much on our own services that we forget the true meaning of teamwork,” Taida Rivero explained. “In this online conference, I could feel the true spiritual unity.”
Interpreters from different countries came together, forgetting, for 60 minutes, where they were, who they were, their worries and anxieties, and putting their hands at the service of God.
“This was congress marked by COVID-19, but a congress that united us more as Seventh-day Adventists. It gave us hope, overcame the obstacles of distance, and even overcame the limits,” Rivero concluded.
Through the hands of all the participants, hope was possible and will be possible.
If someone wonders how Deaf participants chose their translator, just think that Zoom allows you to select a participant, zooming in on the screen, and that’s it!
At the end, a large number of positive comments popped up on the Zoom chat.
Many expressed their gratitude for the organization of the event and hoped for another such occasion. It’s also hoped that pandemic conditions will subside to allow an in-person congress next year.