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Couple senses God’s preparation in launching church for the deaf

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Vonn Johnson and his wife, Mary, believe what God’s Word says: “… faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). That’s the reason they started Melchizedek Baptist Church of the Deaf in Jacksonville, Fla., last October. God has blessed their obedience; the church now has 12 members and at least that many regular visitors each week.

“Years ago, I knew the Lord was calling me to preach, but I went my own way,” Johnson said. “When I heard God’s call again, I listened. [This church] is all about the Lord’s faithfulness.”

It’s also about the Lord using willing servants. When Johnson retired from the military after 22 years of service, he went to work for the Georgia Juvenile System. While there, he sensed God directing him to prepare for ministry. Johnson obeyed by returning to school and earning a doctorate in Christian Ministry from South Jacksonville Baptist Church’s Southern Baptist School of Biblical Studies.

Though Johnson appreciates his education — he already had a master’s degree in education — it’s not his only ministry tool. Johnson is 75 percent deaf himself. And because his twin brother is completely deaf, Johnson learned to sign at an early age. Mary learned ASL (American Sign language) with the help of a deaf friend.

“Vonn and I feel that ministering among the deaf is exactly what God has been preparing us for,” Mary explained.

When the Johnsons moved to Jacksonville three years ago, Mary worked as a church secretary while Vonn did supply preaching and teaching. Months later when Johnson temporarily lost all his hearing, he felt it was the Lord telling him it was time to begin the deaf church.

“All our advisers have been encouraging,” Johnson said. “The Jacksonville Baptist Association has helped support us from the first day. We’re truly grateful.”

Melchizedek Baptist Church of the Deaf offers the same ministries as most churches — Sunday school, morning worship, Sunday evening Bible study and worship. On Wednesday there is prayer meeting and members observe the Lord’s Supper once a month. They frequently have covered dish lunches to celebrate birthdays. “We’ll be adding other activities, ministries and outreach projects as we grow,” Johnson said.

One of the most visible outreach tools is Melchizedek’s monthly newsletter. The Johnsons produce it, the weekly bulletins, prayer lists and Bible study guides from their home office. Like the other members, everyone pitches in.

“People at Melchizedek were adamant about the church being of the deaf, not for the deaf,” Mary said. “This group senses a deep calling to be involved and to reach out to other deaf individuals who need to trust Christ.”

Dean Pritchard serves as Melchizedek’s Sunday school teacher. Now 71 years old, she lost her hearing when she was 8.

“Dean said she still remembers going to bed that night feeling so excited, but not knowing why,” Johnson said. “The next morning she couldn’t hear. Dean believes her deafness is God’s gift to help her reach out to other people.”

Other members of Melchizedek also use their gifts to glorify God. Ellen Reich serves as the church music leader. Gayle Smith is a soloist. Both ladies sign with such artistic flow and praise that everyone hears their silent praise. Johnson signs his sermon, but he also speaks it if a hearing person is present.

Reich and Donald Herbert have used their painting talents on a wall in the church. Reich painted a stained glass-type scene with Jesus in the middle. Herbert finished Christ’s outstretched hands depicting him as signing, “I love you.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MINISTRY OF HANDS.

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  • Rhonda Reese