martes, 21 de septiembre de 2021

Breaking Ground

We broke ground! We are officially building! As soon as we had the blueprints for the first floor in hand, we found a contractor (after going through a few) and he got started that very day. God really does work everything out perfectly. The contractor we settled on is married to the woman we are currently renting the church from, and they live right around the corner. Some of our Deaf church members have experience in construction, and he has agreed to include some on his work team. This church that will be such a blessing for so many has already become an economic opportunity for a few families. 


We are currently starting work on the foundation, which is the most difficult and most expensive part of the whole construction. This will be a 2-3 story cement block building in a country where earthquakes and hurricanes are pretty common occurrences, so we want to make sure we build a strong foundation with good quality materials. Once the foundation is ready, we will focus on the first floor, which will include the church sanctuary, an office, a kitchen, bathrooms, and a couple of small storage rooms. With this, we will be able to move our church services into the new building while we continue fundraising and building the second floor, where we will have classrooms. 



We have been raising money for a while and had some funds for the initial costs, but we now have some immediate needs. I made a table breaking down the material and labor costs required for the foundation of the church, and I am reaching out to all of you to see how you can help. Every little bit helps. Every bag of cement, every rebar, every cinder clock gets us closer to having our own church building. 




If you would like to donate, you can do it through the “Donate" button on the right hand side of this blog. All donations are tax-deductible. You can even set up a recurring donation. Please note that this button does not show up if you are on a cell phone. You must access the blog on a computer. No idea why that is, to be honest.


As we get close to finishing the foundation, I will be sending out another table breaking down the costs to finish the first floor. If everything goes well, we will reach that point in a few months.


Material

Quantity Needed

Cost per unit

Total cost

Bags of cement

600

$6.63

$3,978.00

Rebar 3/8

296

$3.85

$1,139.60

Rebar 3/4

96

$16.00

$1,536.00

Rebar 1/2

98

$7.15

$700.70

Cut wire C-16

200

$2.12

$424.00

Square meters of sand

36

$36.00

$1,296.00

Square meters of gravel

28

$31.81

$890.68





Labor cost

$7,068.39





Grand total for foundation

$17,033.37

martes, 13 de julio de 2021

A Dream Come True!!!!!

WE DID IT!!!!! We finally got the land for the church!!! It has been a long and often frustrating process, but it's ours! This is the most exciting, most important day of my time here so far. I almost can't even believe it. I have to admit, this whole process has gone on so long that it sometimes felt like some far-off dream. But we also knew that if this was the land that God wanted for His church, that He would be faithful and deliver in His perfect time. And that He did. Soon, we will start construction. We have raised enough money to get started, but we will now be looking for more donations as well as mission teams who want to come down and help with the construction. If either of those requests touch your heart, you can e-mail me at ashelamer@yahoo.com for more information.


While we have been sorting everything out with the land, we found a little place right across the street from the lot available for rent. We opened church in-person in late April. We have continued to do our Friday afternoon Bible study online, but we are holding Sunday morning church in that small space. I have to be honest, I thought we were going to have a hard time figuring out how to fit everyone in there. However, we have had a much harder time than expected encouraging our members to develop the habit of coming to church again. We have a strong group of faithful Deaf leaders who have really stepped up to lead the services, supervise the protocols (COVID numbers have peaked here once again), and encourage their friends to come back to church. A large part of the problem is that the van broke down...again...and we have not been able to pick up the young ones or those who live further away and can't afford public transportation. Not to mention the risk of packing a bunch of people into a small van. We are strategizing and praying for solutions.




For the Bible translation, we decided to work on Luke 22-24. No, we haven't translated chapters 6-21 yet. But with this section, we will at least have the birth of Jesus, the start of His ministry, five of His teachings, and His death, resurrection, and ascension. A good overview for people to use while we continue to work. As I have mentioned before, it is a slow, complex, and extremely interesting process. We have an amazing team, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this project.

When the COVID numbers started to go down for a bit and after we got vaccinated, we started to take some short trips to different places around the country. The DR really is such a gorgeous country with so much to offer. It has been a real blessing to see more of it this past year or so.

















On a personal note, these last few months have been very difficult. My grandfather got very sick in late March, and I went back to the States for six weeks to help care for him in the hospital. Thankfully, a lot of my work is still virtual, so I was able to be with my family without having to abandon everything going on in the DR. They actually opened in-person church without me! Our amazing pastor and group of fantastic leaders moved us into the new space and opened church the same week that I left for the States. That was very encouraging to me because it showed that all of our work up to this point has paid off. That they can do it without me!
My grandfather started to improve significantly, so I returned to the DR. A couple of weeks later, he got another infection and his heart gave out. This has been a very difficult loss for me and my family. I am so thankful that I was able to travel back to the States for his celebration of life and to spend a couple of weeks with my family and especially with my grandmother. 

Now I'm back in the DR and we were immediately able to purchase the land. As always, I thank all of you for your prayers and your support. None of this would be possible without all of you. I am so ready to get started building this church!!! If you are interested in supporting with your gifts, you can donate online (tax deductible) by clicking the "Donate" button on the right hand side of this page. If you are interested in supporting with your service, you can contact me at ashelamer@yahoo.com.


lunes, 8 de febrero de 2021

Our 2020 in a Nutshell

Happy New Year, everyone! Well, here we are on the other side of 2020, tentatively hopeful. It has been a long year that has been interesting, sad, blessed, different, difficult, wonderful, infuriating, and maybe if we keep adding all of the adjectives we can come up with, we'll be able to describe it. I will try to summarize the important topics and events to catch you all up since I've been so undisciplined about writing.

COVID:
The pandemic experience was quite different here than it was in the U.S. for many reasons, but let's not get political right off the bat hahaha. Things here never got as bad as they could have. The government acted quickly and decisively. There were maybe 100 identified active cases in the country when the government shut everything down: borders, businesses, schools, government institutions. Pretty much everything. The total shut down lasted a couple of months, and since then things have slowly gotten back to "normal". There are still many restrictions in place, including mandatory masks and a nightly curfew nation wide. There was a two week period during the first peak when the hospitals here in the capital and in Santiago were completely full, and it has been a problem again since the holidays as cases and deaths have risen dramatically. 
As for the impact on the Deaf community, infections have been surprisingly low, and there have been very few serious cases. I have heard of a few that passed from COVID and COVID-related complications, but none that I know personally. Seeing how the virus has impacted the country, it is honestly a miracle the way that God has taken care of the Deaf community.

Education:
The country has opted to start the school year virtually. I personally think this was a wise choice because a lot of the public schools do not even have running water. Most families can't afford to buy masks even weekly for the students. Keeping things clean and safe would be very difficult.
However, the virtual option has also proved difficult because of the large number of students who don't have access to electronic devices or internet. This digital gap has been somewhat dealt with by a government program that started two years ago in a school by school process of providing tablets or laptops to each student and teacher in the public school system. Almost every student and teacher in the country has received their devices at this point, including the schools for the Deaf and where Deaf students are mainstreamed. The internet is still an issue. Those who have a device and internet receive their classes via Zoom. However, many families do not have/cannot afford to install WiFi in their homes, and others live in areas where there is still no infrastructure to support internet connections. To address this, classes are being recorded and televised daily. The classes for hearing students are also played on the radio. The classes for the Deaf students started late (for many reasons, but let's stick with because they require certain adaptations that took more time), but they have turned out beautifully. A wonderful step towards making an effort for accessibility for the community. The elementary level classes are created separately and completely in Dominican Sign Language. The middle and high school classes are being interpreted using the classes for hearing students.
Each student receives a workbook monthly and must use their classes (Zoom or televised) to complete the workbook and turn it in at the end of the month to be reviewed by their teachers. It certainly isn't a perfect system, but I think it has been a very creative and appropriate solution to the difficulties and barriers of keeping education alive this year.

Living conditions:
Not much has changed for most of the Deaf people I know personally in the way of living conditions. Those who work for the government as teacher's assistants (many of our church leaders) have continued to receive their salary normally throughout the pandemic. The ones who don't work haven't been very affected. The government has provided multiple programs since the start of the pandemic, and some members of the Deaf community have been beneficiaries of these programs (delivering food bags to millions of low-income homes on a regular basis, a $30 USD budget for food monthly, programs to support employees who were sent home, etc.)

The current church:
Early on in the pandemic we had to turn in the keys for our old location. The owner was being (well, always has been) very difficult and it just wasn't feasible anymore. We are currently storing the church's possessions in an empty house owned by a family member for a low monthly price. We maybe could hold services there, but the house is not very big, not in great condition, and is a pretty good hike from the main roads where public transportation routes run. We have been reluctant to open because of this and also because of health concerns for our pastor and our church members. Another factor is the difficulty of organizing our members in groups to limit the number of attendees. This is much more complicated than it may seem...
We still hold our church services via Facebook Live on Sunday mornings and Bible study via Zoom on Friday afternoons. We get pretty good attendance, but a lot of our members and regular attendees have fallen away because of connection issues, electricity issues, loss of interest, and the like. Many of our members really enjoy the Friday Bible studies because they are able to participate, sing, pray, and ask questions. Doing church virtually has also allowed Deaf people from all over the country to take advantage of and participate in our services and Bible studies. In the capital, there are a good number of church options for the Deaf community where sign language is included to differing extents. However, in the other provinces, there are significantly fewer options. Most of the provinces are lucky to have one church. Many Deaf men, women, and children have no knowledge of or are unable to get to the nearest church that is accessible for them. The pandemic forced us to do things virtually, which made church accessible to so many more people! We can never doubt that even in the darkest of times, God is still working in and through it for the good and the glory of His Kingdom! If you are interested in seeing how our services have functioned, you can visit our Facebook page: Fundación para Sordos Manos de Dios.


The new church:
We have our eyes on some land and we have the money to buy! All we would need would be four walls and a roof to start holding church in person again, and we should have enough money left over to at least lay the foundation and get started. We are just waiting on the owner of the lot to get all of the legal papers together. This process has been slow because of the pandemic, but we are hoping and praying to have land very soon! We have a Deaf architect who has agreed to draw up the plans for the new church. We are very excited to construct a Deaf created, Deaf friendly space! If you are interested in donating to the construction project or would like more information, you can e-mail me at ashelamer@yahoo.com.

What I've been up to:
I have been crazy busy this past year. Thankfully, most of my work was able to be transitioned to virtual. I even decided to set up a little studio in my room with a ring light, a white background, and a green background. We continued working on the Bible translation project. This year, we completed our translation of Luke chapters 1-5. We did everything but the actual recording virtually, which was a challenge because sign languages are visual and spacial languages. We were only able to get so much done this year because the pandemic had us all working from home, which allowed us more time to focus on the translation process. 


Doing things virtually also allowed us to include the Deaf Christian leaders from every region of the country in some steps of the process. Much like spoken languages, sign languages have regional dialects. Including the Deaf leaders in the process of standardizing name signs and checking the intelligibility of the translation for each of the regions was very important. We are organizing the distribution process of the DVDs and USBs now!


I also did a lot of virtual interpreting for many people and institutions, including the National Association for the Deaf of the Dominican Republic (ANSORDO). For the first four months of the pandemic, the Minister of Health gave daily press briefings and they were not interpreted. I decided to record a signed summary of the daily information and post it on the church's social media. This was a perfect hook to bring people to our page where we transmit and post our live services and Bible studies as well as short weekly devotions. The following on our Facebook page has increased dramatically, which means more people are being exposed to the Word of God.

If I started to list all of the things I have done this past year, this post would become a novel. I will mention that I was contacted to work as a psychologist for a new crisis hotline that was created during the pandemic to counteract the psychological impact of the pandemic as well as mental health concerns in general. I was hired specifically to work with Deaf people looking for mental health services in Sign Language, but I work with hearing clients as well. It has been such a wonderful and also difficult experience. I receive calls for a whole range of mental health concerns from "sometimes I feel a little anxious" all the way to suicide crises and domestic violence. It has been such an honor to be chosen to take part in this groundbreaking project. Up to now, the country has never had a service like this.

In summary, things haven't been easy, and sometimes it feels like there is no right answer. We are doing what we feel is within our grasp and possibilities to do, but it often feels like it falls short. We could use a lot of prayers for wisdom and direction! I promise my next post will be sooner, shorter, and will include pictures that aren't from Zoom meetings!

lunes, 13 de enero de 2020

Deaf Expo, Ecuador Trip, and Christmas Celebration

When you sit down to read this post, make sure you have a few minutes. The holidays are always crazy, and the last couple of months have been full of amazing things! I have really been able to see God working in and through the Deaf community in the Dominican Republic.

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.



Two days after that event, the Bible translation team left for a two-week conference in Ecuador. I had the honor of being able to go. What an experience! The United Biblical Societies has Sign Language translation projects in many countries, each team translating the Bible into the respective Sign Language of their country. Eleven translation teams from 11 countries in Latin America were able to attend this conference. A few weren't able to attend because of visa issues or political instability in their countries. The countries that attended were Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, and Costa Rica.


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.



This picture does not show even half of the room
The big day arrived and it started pouring down rain before the sun even came up. We just knew our little tarp had collapsed. We got there to find the whole outdoor area covered in mud. But, we also found a whole new, much stronger and more intricate tarp set up with many more tarps than what we had left there the day before. A wonderful man named Domingo, who is the bus driver for the Deaf school but has not really been involved with the church very much up to this point, had gotten there super early and brought extra tarps and tall poles. He, with the help of some of the Deaf who got there early, had set up a large, covered area. If Domingo had not shown up that day, the event would not have happened. Whenever the rain would let up a bit, a group of Deaf people would show up. We waited a while as they came in waves. One group finished the tarp setup, another the last minute decorations, another got started cooking lunch in the kitchen, another dried and put out the chairs, and many others were busy getting other things ready.

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 ashelamer@yahoo.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.