Our Christ-strengthened Connections
Rev. Tom Hudspeth, D.Min.
One of the joys of serving our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries is watching layers of connections made in the United Methodist Church. Next month, I will be part of a UMC Deaf ministry and mission team at Africa University in Zimbabwe and in Tanzania visiting the Yatosha Deaf project sites.
Joining me will be Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, a Deaf UMC ordained elder and Associate Professor of Religion at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Kirk has traveled several times to Zimbabwe and has made connections with Deaf people in and outside the United Methodist Church. Our American Sign Language interpreter will be Candas Barnes, senior interpreter administrator at Gallaudet University, where she has served since 1987. Candas is a preacher’s kid from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and will be her first time to travel to Zimbabwe, as it will for me.
Joining us in Zimbabwe will be Martin Sichone, a Deaf teacher of the Deaf from Zambia. Last December, Martin and other Deaf leaders along with Rev. Mainsa Daiman the District Superintendent of Lusaka, began a new Deaf UMC worship community in Kabwe School for the Deaf. With Martin, Kirk, Candas and me, we will witness the graduation of the first Deaf Theology student, Collins Prempeh, from Africa University on June 10, 2023.
In 2013, Collins, who is from Ghana, had met United Methodists and other Methodists at the 3rd Global Methodist Missions Conference of the Deaf at the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya. He then came to Dallas, Texas in 2017 for the 4th Global Methodist Missions Conference of the Deaf. Soon after that meeting, Collins began asking for support for theological training to be ordained in the Methodist Church of Ghana. At the recommendation of Rev. Leo Yates, a member of our UM-DHM committee, a plan was proposed to Africa University to accept Collins in August of 2019.
Led by the Lovers Lane UMC Deaf Ministry of SEEDS (Serving and Educating Exceptional Deaf Students) in Dallas, Texas, funds were raised to support Collins’ education. Also, using the connections in Zimbabwe with Hilltop UMC’s Deaf ministry, we invited Hilltop’s sign language interpreter Tonderayi Makaya, to be Collins’ and Africa University’s interpreter. Over the next four years Lovers Lane UMC’s Deaf Ministry, SEEDS, the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf, the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries, the General Board of Global Ministries, Africa University Development Office, and Africa University - all connected to support Tonderayi, Collins, as well as Collins’ wife and two young children in Ghana.
During our Deaf mission team stay in Zimbabwe, we will also discuss with the AU leadership about continuing to support Deaf students and their interpreters at AU as well as attend worship at Hilltop UMC to celebrate Collins’ graduation and Tonderayi’s four years of interpreting service.
While Kirk and Candas remain in Zimbabwe for on-going Deaf ministry and interpreter support, Collins, Martin, and I will travel to Tanzania. There, we will meet the leaders of the Yatosha Deaf Project, a 14-member team spread over three sites: Dar Es Salaam, Mwanza and Sengerema. Our visit will include a two-day training session for Deaf and hearing leaders of Yatosha; baptizing Deaf persons and receiving them into membership at First UMC, Dar Es Salaam; celebrating Holy Communion; visiting job and farm training sites; and visiting the future site of a 300 Deaf student school in Sengerema.
This mission trip is being paid for by our UMC connectional giving to the General Board of Global Ministries, the Advance Special, grants from SEEDS and donations. Through our UMC connections formed and strengthened, this mission has the ripple effect of making new disciples of Christ. Our United Methodist related Africa University could become a major university for Deaf African Christian leadership and interpreter development; Martin’s Deaf UMC worship start in Kabwe, Zambia has already raised interest in another Deaf school in Zambia for a UMC Deaf worship; Collins’ connections at AU and on-line have introduced additional hearing and Deaf pastors in sub-Saharan Africa to the work of the UMC; and the Yatosha project will raise hundreds of Deaf Tanzanians (and their families) into meaningful education, work and a grace-filled eternal relationship with Christ.
I ask for your prayers for this UMC-Christ-Deaf-connecting mission trip.
Lastly, if your church is interested in exploring the gifts and gains that can be received through a Deaf and Hard of Hearing ministry, please consider applying for a Deaf Awareness micro-grant. September is the month of Deaf Awareness and now is the time for your church to apply. Last year 14 churches hosted a micro-grant sponsored Deaf Awareness event, which led to some churches start ASL classes, implementing interpreted and live captioned worship services, and advocacy. Look for information in this newsletter on how to apply.
Grace and peace, Tom Hudspeth