My main focus in November was helping the National Association for the Deaf (ANSORDO) plan and hold the first Deaf Expo. It was a crazy few weeks trying to get everything organized. We ran into so many problems like sponsors dropping out, trouble finding people/companies to sell food, the venue dramatically changing the hours we could hold the event, etc. The day of the event arrived and, to be completely honest, I was not expecting very many people to come. Wow, was I wrong! The final ticket count showed that over 700 people attended the event! It was a huge success! Sure, there are a lot of bugs and things we can improve for next time, but we were all very happy with the end result. Many organizations that work with the Deaf community put up informational booths, Deaf people sold homemade products, and we had presentations by both Deaf and hearing (dances, songs, dramas, zumba, games, sharing of experiences, etc.). I was so busy that I totally forgot to take pictures, but someone sent me one of me talking to the community about the importance of standardizing and raising the bar for the interpreter training in the country.
The Biblical Society, which is the organization that is in charge of the Bible translation project that I am a part of, also set up a booth for two reasons. First, to let the community know who we are and what we're doing. Second, to show our translation videos and get feedback from the Deaf community. Do they understand the specific signs used? Does the syntax and grammar match their use and understanding of Dominican Sign Language? Are the classifiers and the use of space done clearly and correctly? Does it match up to what the Bible says? We got overwhelmingly positive feedback. The people who watched it were excited about the idea of having the Bible in a format that they can easily understand, in their own language.
You may be wondering how a conference with so many different languages functions. Or maybe not. But I'm going to tell you anyway. Each country had a table, the interpreters sitting with their backs to the stage and the Deaf team members facing the stage. The first week, the presenters were two Deaf women from Mexico. They would present using Mexican Sign Language. Their interpreter sat close to the stage, facing them, and would interpret into a microphone in Spanish. The interpreters at each table would hear the Spanish interpretation and then proceed to interpret the message into their respective Sign Languages. I'm sure no information was lost in this process...hahaha...
If anyone had a question, they would go up to the stage with their interpreter, who would sit next to the Mexican interpreter and take the microphone. The Deaf member would sign the question, and the interpreter would interpret the question into Spanish. The Mexican interpreter (as well as the interpreters at each table, but in their respective Sign Languages) would hear the Spanish and interpret the question into Mexican Sign Language for the presenters to understand. The Mexican presenters would respond in Mexican Sign Language and the chain of interpretation would go back and forth like that.
The first week, we learned about setting up a recording studio, correct lighting, camera settings, and video editing. There was so much technical vocabulary! Us interpreters were struggling! Our team thought that we had our final product (5 passages from Luke) recorded, edited, and ready to be distributed to the community. In that week, we learned SO MUCH that we had to start the recording and editing process all over when we got back from the conference. Good thing we hadn't distributed the DVDs yet!
The second week, we learned about Biblical geography and culture. The presenter was a world renowned Bible scholar and Translation Coordinator for all of the Americas, Dr. Esteban Voth, who has participated in various archeological digs of ancient civilizations in Israel. I wish I could carry that man around in my pocket! Is that creepy...? I don't know how so much information can fit into one brain. I was almost too mesmerized by the fascinating information to interpret! We learned about the importance of putting ourselves into the culture and geography of any passage we translate because not doing so will lead to misunderstanding and misinterpreting many parts of the Bible.
The conference lasted from 8:30am-5pm every day and then we had homework most evenings. We did get one free day, which we used to see some of the tourist attractions in Quito, Ecuador. My favorite was straddling the equator and standing in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time!
When we got back from Ecuador, we only had one week to prepare for our annual Christmas celebration. We went out and bought all of the food, toys, baskets, decorations, and anything else we would need, which was no small task. On the Friday before the celebration (which would be on Sunday), we asked some of our Deaf church members and attendees to come help us do our annual big cleaning. We were expecting the few faithful to come and do this dirty, difficult work. We were surprised how many found money to pay for their own transportation to come and help prepare their church for the celebration.
The coolest part to me is that it wasn't just the leaders and old faithfuls who came. In fact, a lot of them didn't. It was mostly the newer regular attendees. I can see new leaders emerging. They want to learn more about God and the Bible, take care of their church, change their lives, and impact their communities. They worked their behinds off to get that church in shape for a large-scale celebration.
The next day, it was time to prepare the baskets, decorate, put up the tarp outside (we had to have the event outdoors because we can't even fit inside the church on a regular Sunday), and do a final clean up. Another large, hardworking team showed up to help with that. It took about six hours, but we made around 165 food baskets, the decorations were beautiful, and everything was ready. The baskets were about 15 pounds each and included over 20 different types of food items.
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We began the celebration explaining why we celebrate Christmas, singing, praying, dancing, had a drama prepared, and everything was going smoothly. The children were inside having their own special program and having a great time. As soon as the pastor stood up to start preaching, the rain started coming down really hard. She got about five minutes into the message before the tarps started to give way and the crowd was getting wet. The whole thing had to be cut short because, as the Dominicans like to say, "Satan is dirty and he doesn't bathe." Regardless, we know that the seeds were planted and God will work with them. There were about 200 people in attendance, many of whom asked me about our regular church services and told me they are very interested in coming back.
We served lunch to everyone in attendance and then gave out the food baskets. We had just enough with a few left over to give one to each family. We also gave toys to each of the children.
A couple of days later, I headed back to the States to spend the holiday season with my family, which is always such a blessing. I also have had the opportunity to speak to many people about our building project and have received such an outpouring of support, financially and through prayer. We have almost raised enough to buy the land, which is an absolute miracle! We weren't expecting to need building budget estimates, designs, construction teams, etc. nearly so soon, but it's time! We still need about $5000 to buy the lot, so if you or anyone you know feels led to support this project, you can click the yellow "Donate" button on the righthand side of this page. If you are interested in being a part of one of the construction teams who will be coming down to help build possibly later this year, e-mail me at email@example.com.
It is crazy to think how we got here. When I arrived in the Dominican Republic in 2016, the church had an average attendance of maybe 8-15 people. When we started the vocational training program in 2017, I hopped in the church van with a Deaf man I knew and asked him, "Where do your Deaf friends live?" He took me to their homes and we told them about the church. Some even hopped in the van right then and there. I then asked them, "Where do your Deaf friends live?" And on we went all day until we had a full van. We took them back to the church and, since that day, the church hasn't stopped growing. We now get no less than 40 on a regular Sunday and up to 200 at special events. Our church comfortably seats 30. If we want to keep making and growing disciples, we need a larger space where they can feel at home and call their own. We are well on our way to reaching that goal.