Deaf congregation serves in Haiti

Communicating in sign language helps Americans, Haitians connect quickly

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Jeff Jackson, center, team leader and pastor of Laurelglen Deaf Church, brought a group of volunteers from the Bakersfield, California church to minister at the Haiti Christian Center for the Deaf. Photo credit: Laurelglen Deaf Church

Laurelglen Bible Church in Bakersfield, California, sends short-term mission teams internationally every year. One of the biggest challenges for participants is the language barrier.

But for a team of six who traveled to Haiti in August, this was not the case. They had never been to the country, nor had they learned the native language, Creole. Instead, the American team was able to communicate with the Haitians using a language both preferred—American Sign Language.

“When we got there, we immediately connected to the deaf community,” says Jeff Jackson, team leader and Laurelglen Deaf Church pastor in an email interview. “The deaf Haitians were so thrilled to see deaf Americans, because they got to know one another and share cultures using sign language.”

Jackson, who has visited Haiti over 40 times, led the team with his wife, Maura. This is the second team Laurelglen has sent to Haiti; the first was in 2016. The group flew to the country via Missionary Flights International, with the goal of supporting the Haiti Christian Center for the Deaf.

“There are many deaf scattered all over Haiti,” Jackson says. “This is an opportunity for the deaf to have school, to have a place to learn and study reading and writing. That way they will have the capability to read and understand the gospel of good news.”

Connecting across cultures

The relationship between the Laurelglen deaf congregation and the deaf community in Haiti began several years ago. After assisting with hurricane relief in the Dominican Republic, Jackson met missionaries from the Christian Center and visited their facility.

“I was blown away,” Jackson says. “They all captured my heart.”

He returned many times over the next several years.

Unfortunately, the center was eventually forced to close, and those who were once united were scattered again, says Jackson.

But leaders began home Bible studies and worship services again, and after saving money for seven years, they purchased land. They constructed a ramshackle building using whatever supplies—wood, tin and cardboard—could be found.

Laurelglen provided funds for food, materials, salaries and labor. Other churches joined the effort and helped construct a building from cement and hardier material. Construction is ongoing but nearing completion.

“It’s amazing to see what’s been happening, even though they have been through several barriers along the way, such as hurricanes and bad weather,” Jackson says.

Volunteers discover many opportunities to serve

During their time in Haiti, the Laurelglen team supported the deaf community in a number of ways.

Team members taught Bible study workshops on the parable of the sower, the fruits of the spirit and the armor of God. As a result, two men prayed to invite Jesus as their Savior. The team also led a Sunday service, providing the sermon, music, testimonies and prayer.

“It was a successful and awesome event throughout the weekend,” Jackson says. “The Haitian deaf adults were thrilled and attentive because we are deaf sharing to the deaf in their language.”

For multiple days, the team assisted with the construction of the Christian Center, painting and cleaning trash to help prepare for the start of school for 34 students and 12 staff members.

The week was capped off by baptizing six Haitians in a nearby river.

“We all celebrated with joy, giving them a huge congratulations,” Jackson says. “It was beautiful.”

Team members inspired, changed

Other than Jackson and his wife, the other members of the Laurelglen team had never been on a mission trip outside of the United States. They were changed by their experience and wished they could have stayed longer.

Estefani Arevalo was struck by the Haitian’s dedication to gathering together. A leader of the 20-year-old group at Laurelglen’s deaf congregation, she has often observed Americans making excuses for going to church. In contrast, the Haitians would walk long distances over dangerous roads to gather.

“They really inspired me,” Averalo says. “God opened my eyes, and being around those who are on fire for the Lord has also made me have a fire for the Lord.”

Deborah Marlatt says she learned about friendship, patience, sharing, giving, humility and standing bold in her faith.

“Life in Haiti is hard, poverty there is extreme and real, but that didn’t stop them from living for Jesus,” says Marlatt. “Their love for Jesus and each other is so contagious.”

Jackson, who plans to take more teams to Haiti next summer, is glad to see a rekindling interest in evangelism in his congregation. Only 1.5 percent of the deaf in the country know Jesus, according to the Laurelglen website.

“I definitely saw that this team was impacted in an almighty way,” Jackson says. “They came home with a different, new perspective, which motivates them to continue to share the gospel of good news in sign language to their peers.

Jenae Suderman
Jenae Suderman is a freelance news writer. She and her husband, Adam, live in Wichita, Kansas.

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