Several interpreters and deaf persons show Pastor Gabriel Paulino, president of the Southeast Dominican Conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, during the special dedication ceremony of the first newly organized group on Apr. 2, 2022. The group is overseen by a district pastor and seven trained interpreters who assist and offer support to the 35 hearing impaired individuals throughout the city who have been attending the weekly Sabbath services since February. More than 20 are currently studying the Bible.

April 27, 2022 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | Southeast Dominican Conference Communication Department and Inter-American Division News

The Seventh-day Adventist Church through its Possibility Ministries in the Dominican Republic recently dedicated the first congregation specifically for the hearing impaired in southeast of 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 Apr. 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, the organization of a Master Guide youth group among other initiatives and ministries,” Pérez said.

The group is presented by Pastor Gabriel Paulino (center), president of the Adventist Church’s Southeast Dominican Conference, during the dedication ceremony at the conference’s event room, on Apr. 2, 2022, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The group includes seven church members who are certified interpreters and minister to the group of nearly three dozen deaf individuals who visit the worship service every Sabbath since February, 2022.  [Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference]

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,” said Paulino. “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, 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.”

Rachel Marte Pierre, age 17,  smiles after being baptized and presented  by Pastor Gabriel Paulino and group of hearing impaired and church members welcome her on Apr. 2, 2022. Marte Pierre is the first baptized deaf person in the group. [Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference]

The church sees an average of 15 to 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,” he said. “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 been established as a church officially but the conference made arrangements to dedicate group as special congregation as a result to the ongoing efforts to minister to the hearing impaired community during the past four years, said Lizardo.

Kariela Alcántara, a special needs teacher and Adventist youth leader at the EFFATA Intercultural Bilingual Adventist Church in Ensanche Ozama in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, watches as interpreters sign for the hearing impaired during the dedication service on Apr. 2. Alcántara has trained more than 25 church members in sign language and other persons in the community during the past three years. [Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference]

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 as part of the project with 50 persons 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.

One among the many hearing impaired attending the dedication program on Apr. 2, 2022. {Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference]

Many more to reach

There is a vast need, said Lizardo. The church has assisted in providing food and clothing, as well as offering transportation from their homes or at the bus station to the Sabbath services. But 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. Among those multiple needs conducted by the U.S. Embassy in the country, some 74,732 homes where there are deaf persons they discovered that one out of four persons, have no medical insurance, only 26.8 percent have received elementary schooling, and many do not have jobs, he said.

“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 the live in the city,” said Lizardo.

Pastor Héctor Lizardo (6th from the left) bends over with the group of two dozen uniformed group hearing impaired Master Guides and interpreters during  a special activity with the deaf community at the Plaza de la Cultura in Santo Domingo to commemorate the International Week of the Deaf in November 2021. [Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference].

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 house 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 10 member volunteers—mostly young people ages 13 to 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 said.

A group of hearing impaired with 15 interpreters pose for a photo while signing at the Southeast Dominican Conference’s “On Fire” Master Guide Camporee at the Brisas del Mar Campgrounds in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Nov. 2021. It was the first time a group of 30 deaf young people and 15 interpreters had ever attended the church’s camporee event. [Photo: Southeast Dominican Conference]

“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.”

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