PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–An open door to Port-au-Prince’s deaf community has given Florida Baptist relief workers a vision to seek out clusters of forgotten people left stranded by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
As they have found ways to minister to the deaf, leaders of the Confraternité Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti convention “opened their eyes to a community of people that their eyes were blinded to,” said Dennis Wilbanks, partnership missions associate director for the Florida Baptist Convention, which has had a 15-year relationship with the CMBH.
The outreach to the deaf has sparked a concern “about the other clusters of forgotten people” in Haiti, Wilbanks said.
Approximately 1,000 deaf people in the Port-au-Prince area have had little food and no medical attention since the earthquake shook the capital city region.
Schools for the deaf, a source of networking as well as education, were destroyed by the quake, giving deaf Haitians no place to meet to communicate with other deaf people.
“While there have been food distributions in their communities, they often learn of it too late due to their disability,” Wilbanks said.
Wilbanks learned of the problem in a meeting with Marlene Jean Pierre, a representative of the deaf community in Haiti. He promised her a food distribution exclusively for the deaf. “Together we developed a plan,” he said.
From April 28 through May 1, a Florida Baptist mission house in Port-au-Prince was set up for food distribution and a medical clinic. On May 2, a worship service was held there for members of the deaf community.
Leaders of the deaf community came to the mission house prior to the distribution to put together bags of food to be distributed, which included beans, rice, oil and canned salmon.
The clinic was packed, with the doctor seeing 40 to 50 patients a day, Wilbanks reported. Each visit took quite some time because English had to be translated into Creole, then communicated in sign language, before the process was reversed back into English.
On the days the food distribution and clinics were conducted, the deaf would begin arriving at the mission house at 6:30 a.m. before it opened at 9 a.m.
“You could see the joy on their faces as they waited to be seen,” Wilbanks said.
Food distributions also were conducted for the deaf in Jacmel and Petit-Goave.
Wilbanks believes the experience will open doors of ministry for churches that have strong deaf ministries. He is working with churches in Florida to help build a school for the hearing impaired that will provide education, networking and vocational trade skills.
“God has been doing so many miracles that I’ve witnessed in this ministry to the deaf,” Wilbanks said.
“I’ve been completely humbled to be on this journey and to witness something like this come together,” Wilbanks said. “These people don’t receive any help and God is allowing us to help them. It fills my heart with joy to see how God is meeting physical and spiritual needs.”
Meredith Hays is an intern with the Florida Baptist Convention