The Seventh-day Adventist Church, through its Possibility Ministries in the Dominican Republic, recently dedicated the first congregation specifically for the hearing impaired in southeastern Santo Domingo. The ceremony drew church leaders, member volunteers, and more than 35 hearing impaired at the church’s Southeast Conference Events’ Room to celebrate and witness the first among the group to get baptized on April 2, 2022.
“The message of God is for every person, and as a church, we have the responsibility to deliver this message of salvation using all of the means available so that they all can understand and accept in their lives,” said Lidia Pérez, Possibility Ministries director for the church in the Dominican Republic. The organized congregation is the result of the hard work of a group of young people and adult members of the church who have been in favor of the hearing impaired in the community, she said. “There have been sign language training classes [and] the organization of a Master Guide youth group among other initiatives and ministries.”
Filling a Great Need
During the keynote message of the inaugural ceremony, Pastor Gabriel Paulino, president of the church in the Southeast region, praised the work of the committed church members for their dedication to bringing the hearing impaired congregation together. “It is a high honor to dedicate this church group. This fills a great need in our population, thanks to God,” said Paulino, as he reassured the group of the church’s full support in the new ministry with the congregation.
Seeing Rachel Marte Pierre, age 17, getting baptized means a wonderful blessing and accomplishment, said Héctor Lizardo, a district pastor who ministers in the newly formed hearing impaired group.
“I feel so happy to get baptized today,” said Marte Pierre, minutes before she was baptized. “I understand everything said in church.”
The church sees an average of 15–20 hearing impaired individuals every Sabbath morning for church service.
Bringing Meaning to Their Lives
This project has meant more than just inclusion for deaf persons, said Lizardo. “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.”
The group has not officially been established as a church, but the conference made arrangements to dedicate the group as a special congregation as a result of the ongoing efforts to minister to the hearing impaired community during the past four years, said Lizardo.
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. “We began to reach the director of the National School for the Deaf and the National Institute of Technical Professional Formation and established a collaboration with the conference to train persons in sign language, which resulted in seven trained church members,” explained Lizardo.
Out of that training, Alcántara began to teach sign language to fifty people as part of the project, including those seven interpreters, he said. Little by little more, deaf individuals in the community were included in the project, and 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 of the hearing impaired group are receiving Bible studies, and leaders expect others to make their decision to be baptized by the end of the year.
Many More to Reach
There is a vast need, said Lizardo. The church has assisted in providing food and clothing and is offering transportation from their homes or at the bus station to the Sabbath services. However, there are many more to reach, he said.
According to the National Disability Council in the Dominican Republic, there are approximately 97,735 persons who are deaf. “There are many areas of need that turn into opportunities to assist in a positive way as a church,” said Lizardo, adding that among those multiple needs, based on a survey conducted by the U.S. Embassy in the country throughout some 74,732 homes where there are deaf persons, they discovered one out of four persons have no medical insurance, only 26.8 percent have received elementary schooling, and many do not have jobs.
“This is not because there is lack of training, but because they are deaf, and it’s a great opportunity for the church to establish a vocational center where they can learn several technical or vocational skills at accessible locations no matter where [they] live in the city,” said Lizardo.
Leaders are working on raising funds to guarantee the transportation to church services of 15 deaf persons spread across the city. Although the meeting place has a maximum capacity of 60, the plan is to grow the church and rent a locale that could hold 100 people and eventually build a church with plenty of rooms for teaching sign language and vocational courses.
Getting Members Involved
The group is being viewed as a pilot program to establish more deaf congregations across the island, said Lizardo. “Our dream is to have at least one congregation in each of the conference regions as part of having an exclusive church for the deaf, but also to include this group as part of our church culture and eventually have every church be accessible and catering to the hearing impaired and others with special needs.”
The congregation includes ten member volunteers, mostly young people ages 13–25 years old, who coordinate, lead the programs, and connect with the hearing impaired group every week. “We are preparing to receive children and adults and also to invite those who are blind-deaf-mute,” said Lizardo. The plan is to open Adventurer and Pathfinder clubs soon, he added.
“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.”