Thursday, August 19, 2010

2010 Deaf Camp Signs of Love

You know that feeling you get when you go to your favorite place on earth and discover something new and different each time you go?   That’s one of the best feelings one can experience. 

The culmination of camp is one of those favorite places for me.  There is so much excitement and anticipation leading up to camp every year… this is the highlight of the year for a hundred Deaf Hondurans…and an eternal impact is at hand…and impractical logistics must be orchestrated with grandeur…and our volunteers must stay energized and faraway from amoebas…and and and.  And after it’s all over, there’s so much contentment that it splashes all over everything and everyone for several weeks. 

It all unfolded majestically this year at our 10th Annual Deaf Camp.  This was the first year we were able to bus in all of our campers ‘on time,’ and we officially started on schedule!  All the countless tiresome hours of preparation paid off as hands started to fly, smiles covered faces, and love was in the air.  It’s almost impossible to describe that magic-like ambiance that engulfed this camp. 

Even though each camper has a story of triumph worth sharing, I’ll just briefly share Nayely’s, Madudy’s mom, Jilma’s, and Sixto’s.  

Five year-old Nayely embodies the reason for camp.  We had just met her the month before, and even though she’s as bright as can be, she had no language.  Her parents believe in her unseen abilities, and were thrilled when they met us, saying, “Hope has come to us today.”  Nayely was rejected by her village’s teachers because of her deafness. We know she’s going to prove herself to be the smartest person her village has ever seen.   She was a delight to all of us at camp.  Her mind was like a sponge, soaking up all her eyes could take in, and her heart was like a flower, blossoming in sheer radiance with all the Truth she was receiving.

Madudy’s mom was awestruck as she peered into the crowded auditorium filled with people just like her daughter.  She didn’t realize there were so many, and she didn’t realize they had their own language and their own lives, just like everyone else.  These were her thoughts as she stood there staring into the commotion.  This was the moment of Madudy’s liberation.  She finally grasped the truth, and realized the stigma she had carried those 13 years for her daughter was no more than a lie.  Her daughter wasn’t stupid, she wasn’t punished by God, she is perfect in His sight, she can learn and be just as educated as you and I, she can be the worship leader in church, and she can have friends…and if she so chooses, a husband and children one day! 

Jilma is a large, vivacious Garifuna woman who has been deaf her entire life, and has had to travel the hardest of roads simply to survive.  She’s been involved in our program for years, but has always kept herself at a distance.  A few years ago, Jilma shared with me the reason why she didn’t want to become a Christian.  She said, “I know once I decide to follow Jesus, I’ll have to change how I live.  I’m not willing to do that.”   More than anything, I wanted Jilma to understand that Jesus loves her where’s she’s at, and that she didn’t have to change a thing for Him to keep loving her.  The camp theme this year was God Cares.  Jilma must have allowed this truth to fill her mind.  On the last day of camp, as Elise (one of our extraordinary volunteers) was explaining the last Bible story drama, she asked the campers if any of them wanted to make a declaration in prayer of wanting to follow God’s ways.  Jilma raised her hand, stood up out of her chair, went and stood by Elise, and declared that she wanted to become a Christian.  …Tangible proof that God Cares.  

Sixto is one of the least of these and an outcast not because of his deafness, but because of the disfigurement that covers half his face.  His 76-years of living in poverty didn’t offer Sixto the same options you or I would have in his situation.  He has skin cancer, which if it had been removed within the first year, would be nothing more than a slight scar on his face.  Seven years later it is a gaping, swollen, cavern exposing the inners of his face – extremely sore, smelly, and unsightly.  He does use a bandana as an attempt to hide his wound and keep the bugs away.  Needelss to say, Sixto doesn’t receive any human contact except from his sister who takes care of him.  Despite his embarrassment, we were able to coax him to camp, and his life will never be the same.   Because of the open arms and hearts of our camp volunteers, Sixto was treated as if he had a perfect face.  There wasn’t 15 minutes that passed where Sixto didn’t receive a touch or hug from someone.  Another of our amazing volunteers, Miles, embraced caring for Sixto during these days, and there wasn’t a need that went unmet.   Sixto has never received so much love in his life.  Even though Sixto longs to die to escape from his painful and hopeless state, it’s an indescribable feeling to know that we had a part in bringing joy to his days.  Camp offered us the opportunity to selflessly love him out of this world…and we couldn’t have been more privileged.  

Here at Signs of Love, our hearts are filled with thanks to all of you who took part in this camp.  The reach of hands and hearts involved goes beyond our knowledge, and it is not our intention to overlook anyone who was involved.  We ask our gracious Lord to abundantly bless all of you who had a part in making this happen.  As you can see, from just the few stories above, camp is a powerful, life changing instrument.   We’re so grateful for our 24 volunteers who gathered from all over the USA (including a team from The Vista Community Church in Texas) – they sacrificed their time, energy, money, and much more to make a difference amongst the Deaf in rural Honduras.  We are also grateful to Hill Country Church in Texas for partnering with us at camp from afar.  Their sacrificial giving is humbling, and we are honored to be making a kingdom difference with them.  

We love you all!  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Her Name Is Juana

It all started with the man who came to the mission house a few days ago, and “knew of some poor deaf people for us to help” …well, I knew there would be a twist in it somewhere.  This man is a Deaf beggar, running all over town begging for the “deaf association” that doesn’t exist. Anything at all he can do to tie himself to us will be used to further his cause and his band of opportunists. The problem is he had what we wanted, information on unreached deaf.

We ended up going into the village with him, receiving his information in bits and pieces as we went. When we approached our dirt road destination, our first house appeared at the end of a footpath. A lady, of middle age with two children and a yard that was well kept, greeted us. She gave us a tour as we interacted with her sons, and then she pointed us to the next deaf person just up the road.  As we opened the gate, the elderly father of the deaf girl in her early twenties greeted us.  As I sat on the porch with him, I watched my wife, along with Orland and Amanda relate with our new friend. We came to find out that she is married and well taken care of by her husband who was working in the fields. Her father let us know that her husband makes her carry a “heavy load” and is hard on her. We said goodbye and reminded her we would see her again soon. The next person, a young man riding his bike approaching his house at the same moment that we arrived, greeted us in his yard just inside the gate. We were both friendly and quickly understood that he simply wasn’t interested in our services. We said goodbye and headed to the next house. One at a time, the “beggar” played his next piece of information, all the while keeping us wondering if the next house would be the last one. The team arrived at the gate a few minutes ahead of me, and as I approached I saw the look on my wife, Robin’s, face. I have seen this before…”this is the one”…with a glance my way. I then spend the next 15 minutes talking with the neighbor who comes out and has lived in California. The English-speaking starved soul tells me about all of his rentals back in the states and how great it is to be here. I agree. As we get back in the truck, Robin begins to tell me all that I missed while distracted by the chatty guy who lived in the states. “She is the one!”…”She’s the real reason we came here today,” Robin said with glee!

Her name is Juana. As I drive the dirt road out, Robin explains. Juana’s aunt poured out her heart to my wife. “I know she has thoughts and feelings, she just has now way of getting them out of her head,” explained the aunt, “She isn’t able to communicate with anyone and she has no friends.” The entire time Juana’s aunt talked with Robin, she was elated to see Amanda “talk” with Juana. Amanda drew her out gently as she began to grasp at what level she would “gesturally” use her hands to “chat” with Juana.
Robin tells the aunt about Deaf Camp and that we want Juana to come, and that we will be back and begin to instruct her in language. The aunt is elated and grateful. “If only she had someone to talk to,” she begins to get emotional, “she could learn.”  Robin then chimed in, “Do you see Amanda?…she works for Signs of Love…that man next to her is Orland…they are married and he works for Signs of Love also…they will be teaching Juana…not long ago Amanda was just like Juana…look at her now…”  Juana’s aunt stares at the conversation between her niece and her new friends…she is somewhat bewildered as she thanks everyone as we leave.

…love can be heard by all.

“Lord when you show yourself big in small ways…what are you saying?”


History In The Making | 10 Year Celebration

 Anniversaries and birthdays are such wonderful times.  It causes us to pause in our busy lives and look back at cherished memories while inspiring us to dream about the future.  Signs of Love 10 year anniversary celebration was a beautiful example of both.  Sitting in the room watching the slide show chronicling the past 10 years and glancing around the room at the glowing faces of the mostly Deaf audience was an experience that defies description.  How many thousands of hours and buckets of sweat did it take to find these precious Deaf souls and give them a language and a sense of community and love?  Each smiling face represented a Herculean effort and caused me to consider once again that in God’s economy, one life, no matter how small and insignificant in the world’s eyes, is a priceless treasure. And while relishing the past is a beautiful thing, clearly Signs of Love is dreaming about the future.  Spending a few days with Robin and Jeff leaves no doubt that their passion to reach and empower even more Deaf around the world has not diminished in the least.  The twinkle I saw in Robin’s eyes back in 2001 when I first met her has intensified and is echoed in Jeff’s.  Signs of Love will continue to implement their phenomenally effective outreach and training programs for rural Deaf in ways that we cannot imagine.  There is no doubt that when Honduras begins writing their Deaf History books some day, Signs of Love will be there.  The only question remaining is will you be a part of this history-making organization? 

I hope the answer is a resounding YES!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Through The Bamboo

The hand coming through the bamboo wall startled us and drew our attention from our dinner conversation“No,” we responded to his begging, “go away.” He left us to our meal and conversation, moving on to the next table. A little later another hand appeared with the young face looking in at us. This time Robin and Jeff responded with recognition and Jeff jumped up and went to the street to try to talk with the youth. He was a beggar – no, worse – a young deaf beggar. He has consistently refused any assistance from the Signs of Love staff, who have repeatedly reached out to him. Yet, one more time Jeff is going out of his way, interrupting our dinner, our conversation, our time, to try and reach this young one.
As dinner neared an end, my wife, Susan, looked at the large amount of food still left on her plate and asked if we could give these leftovers to the boy.  Robin assured us it was fine, so we had a good serving of baked chicken with rice, beans and tortillas wrapped up to go.  Taking this little package, I went out and finding the young boy, I offered it to him.  Quickly, and I think gratefully, he took it, turned and ran away.

One small act, one more attempt to reach him, to soften his heart.  Maybe next time they try, maybe then he will respond with more openness to the help available through Signs of Love.  Reflecting on the whole encounter, I am impressed with the continued efforts to reach this one more hurting and needy one, unaware of the gifts and possibilities for life that are available to him.  I am moved to pray that one day soon we will hear a story of how this one is learning, changing, growing.  

All things are possible.  
It takes love – love that truly can be heard by all.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Our Recent Trip

Benjamin and Susan in Village Nueva Armenia

My wife, Susan, and I were greeted at the airport in San Pedro Sula by the welcome and smiling faces of Robin and Jeff.  It was raining and late evening, but the excitement I felt was palpable as we were beginning what I came to describe as my “final God-dream” related to the writing and publication of my book, Enrique Speaks With His Hands.  I had seen it read in our church weekend services, there was a book signing in my Alabama hometown, there was newspaper coverage, and now here we were in Honduras to launch the Spanish edition and present a copy to Enrique, the boy who was the inspiration of the story.
Our days were full as we visited the four villages where language programs were being held that week.  Each day the book would be introduced and then the story interpreted for the deaf by Amanda, Orland, and Robin.  Robin would read the story to those hearing people present, the mothers and the other villagers, adults and children, who had gathered to be a part of what was happening.  All our hearts were touched the day one of the mothers responded after the reading with, “This is my story… it’s all our story,” her arm sweeping around to the other mothers present.  She then went on to recount the day she realized her own daughter was deaf.  For her it was Mother’s Day.
The positive responses continued as the week progressed. We were able to read the book in a number of schools, were featured on a couple of TV shows and visited the deaf church.  In each case the comments were positive and affirming as the deaf and the hearing saw themselves depicted in the story. 
At dinner on our last night, I asked the question to Robin, Jeff, and Susan, “What was your favorite part of the week?”  A couple answers were given and then came the response, “I don’t have one single favorite thing – it all was special and great.”  That was my “favorite” as well… all of it.  I’ve been blessed to once again be able to come and visit and see firsthand the work being done with and for the deaf in Honduras.  People are being touched and lives are being changed as the Kingdom is being realized, one heart at a time.
Ok, I must confess there is one more book-related dream – honestly, what author doesn’t dream of an appearance on Oprah?  That dream, though it would be wonderful and amazing, is more of a fantasy.  And you know what?  In terms of what really matters in life and eternity, no appearance could be more meaningful to me than standing in Enrique’s yard, seeing the evidence of how his life has been changed, and thanking the Lord that it is possible for me to be able to be a small part in supporting this work.

…love can be heard by all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sri Lanka | Deaf Church Leader Conference

Hindsight. What an amazing gift it would be to have hindsight beforehand. If we could see it before it happened,would we plan and execute any differently? Sometimes It’s not safe or productive to lean on our past experience when serving The Almighty. This reminder was magnificently brought to me during our time in Sri Lanka this past December.

This was my third trip there.  We’ve started a Signs of Love branch in the country which is led by a Deaf Sri Lankan man named Sanjho.  He’s amazing. This young man has such a passion to reach the Deaf in his country for Jesus Christ. The country is mostly Buddhist with some Hindus and Muslims. Sanjho has been working full-time with the Deaf for about 3 years now, and what God has allowed him to accomplish is simply inspiring. So this trip Jeff and I hosted a Bible Training Conference (per Sanjho’s request, and he made it clear that he wished we could have come long before December).  Sanjho brought in 22 Deaf leaders from all over the country and we trained them for 3 days on Fundamental Bible Doctrine.  It was like something I’ve never seen! In my 10 years of doing this ministry, our time with these 22 Deaf leaders holds the place as my number one endearing memory.  Let me explain: these 22 people came from various regions of the country where different forms of sign language are used.  The country has two `people groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  We mainly minister with the Tamils, although Sinhalese were also present.  This means two different spoken languages and two different sign languages.  Also present at the conference were 3 people from Jaffna where they use another sign language.  Jaffna is the war-torn area that has been under attack for the past 25 years. The war ended a few months ago, freeing them to come to this conference.    When we opened the conference, Jeff would speak in English, I would translate into American Sign Language which Sanjho understands, and then he would translate into Sri Lankan Sign Language using some variations so that everyone would understand.  After an hour or so, something happened to my signing, and Sanjho was able to sit down because everyone was understanding me.  It was incredible!  The entire conference they sat with full attention, soaking in everything!  They didn’t even want to break for tea or stretching --- we had to insist!  They are so hungry to learn the bible, to learn Truth.  At the end of each module we would review what main points that were taught ---- they were clearly tracking with everything because they consistently answered our questions correctly, and moreover, asked profound questions related to what was being taught! Incredible!  Remember, this is a group of people who aren’t even able to read…only a few are literate. The Methodist Church recognized this conference as being of extreme importance, and the President of the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka announced that this conference was a history making event – the first of its kind in Sri Lanka.  Now the best part of all this was at the end when Jeff and I
orally tested each participant. One by one they came to the front of the room where we asked them to state the 12 pillars of truth in the Christian faith, and asked them to briefly state what each truth meant. Tears started streaming down my face as each person successfully stated this in their own language! They weren’t mimicking the signs I used they were proclaiming truth in their own language, incredible! I’m not sure I’ve felt a moment where the Holy Spirit was more alive in a room. At the end of each teaching module, Jeff would tell them, “learn this, and now go and teach others what they have learned.”  At the end of the conference many of them shared that they were going to go back to their village and share with the other Deaf what they learned.  Truth is going to cover the land of Sri Lanka! Sanjho’s vision is grand, and we are behind him 100%.  He wants these leaders to receive a year of training so that they will be equipped to plant churches in their villages, towns and cities.  Sanjho sees multiple churches being planted by 2011! Our work in Sri Lanka is definitely cut out for us, and it’s going to require a lot of prayer, sacrifice, money, and time by many.  Please keep this close to your heart.

We’re so excited we can hardly stand it!