Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:9-11
Picture this: A MOST Ministries eyeglass clinic staged in two schoolrooms with concrete floors and walls, a corrugated metal roof, metal desks, and wall-to-wall people. Anyone who has served on a MOST eyeglass team knows what that means: the constant noise from asking and answering questions, moving chairs to move from place to place, the sound of directing people to the next station, educating individuals about eye health, and witnessing to them before they leave. It can be pretty loud and exhausting!
Now picture this: A MOST Ministries eyeglass team recently traveled to Ethiopia. The room in which the clinic was held, though full of people, was eerily quiet. Mulugeta and another teacher handled registration as fast as they could write. Pastor Buhari and Diana used colorful witness bracelets to help them communicate God’s love to a group of about 20 students at a time who were intently watching them and answering them without speaking. Laura, who worked at the nurse’s station with another teacher, examined each child’s eyes for visible signs of disease. People constantly moved in and out of the room all day long, but the clinic was unusually silent, except for the occasional screech of desk legs on the concrete floor.
Our team held the clinic at a school for the Deaf, operated by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), in Nek’emte, Ethiopia. All the students were deaf, as were Pastor Buhari and Diana, and two other team members. Laura, another MOST team member, and the teachers who helped us communicate with the students, were “hearing,” but fluent in sign language. The conversations with the students were carried on using sign language. Although Amharic sign language (the native language of the students) is often different from American Sign Language (ASL), our team members, Laura and Diana, made themselves understood.
The activity in the adjoining room of the clinic was noisier. There, Peggy and Cynthia were signing their questions to the children (“Better? Worse? Are those glasses too loose?”) Team members, Josie and Kaleigh, made themselves understood through a combination of basic ASL, facial expressions, and random gestures. But the rest of us, who knew very little sign language, would talk loudly as though that would help the deaf children, who knew little English, understand us by reading our lips! Thankfully, we had very capable interpreters who could help us when we really needed them.
It was a joy to be around these children who proudly taught us how to say relatively simple phrases in sign language that we grownups did not know, such as, “Good morning”, “Thank you”, “My name is…”, or best of all, “God bless you.”
We visited three schools for the Deaf in Ethiopia within a two-week period and saw over 900 people; approximately three-quarters of them were deaf – not just the students, but former students who attended the schools, as well. They were so happy to be able to communicate with the people who tested their vision, and they were appreciative of receiving a quality pair of eyeglasses that could help them see and read much better.
In contrast with the U.S., there are many more Deaf persons in other countries where health care is less advanced and less available. Our children get an ear infection – they get antibiotics or tubes. Those children? They lose some or all of their hearing. As you might imagine, good vision becomes all that more important when you cannot hear.
We were so blessed to have Peggy, Cynthia, and Diana on our team who are part of the Deaf community, in addition to the others who were fluent in sign language -- Pastor Buhari, Laura, and Pastor Tom Dunseth. The rest of us had gifts, to be sure, but theirs were extra special. And we learned so much from these exceptional team members. They explained to us that the Deaf are often excluded from conversations (albeit unintentionally). On this trip, we (who could hear) got a taste of what that must be like. They would talk and laugh, while the rest of us were thinking, “What did she say? What’s so funny?” Team discussions each evening about learning to read, signing, and jokes helped us get a sense of the vast differences between the Deaf culture and our own take-it-for-granted hearing culture.
We (Team 1922) were the first MOST Ministries team to be assembled and trained specifically to minister to the Deaf. There were some challenges but, as always, the positive experiences and memories far outweighed the difficulties. Through the smiles of the children and the others who we served, God reminded us of how much we all are so blessed!