It’s disheartening to hear that the majority of deaf individuals in Guatemala do not participate in church activities due to the lack of accommodations for their language and communication needs. The same statistic rings true for most of the world. Additionally, the absence of support and services for individuals with special needs in the social and economic system of Guatemala adds to their difficulties. The lack of workplace protections and government assistance programs are just a few of the challenges faced by the deaf community in the country.
Despite these significant obstacles, leaders of the deaf ministry at El Camino are providing a beacon of hope and inclusion for deaf believers. Their active involvement in the life of the church is a testament to the importance of creating an environment where everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, can worship and grow in faith together.
In Guatemala, it’s estimated that fewer than 1% of hearing-impaired individuals have genuinely comprehended and embraced the gospel. The absence of a Bible translation in Guatemalan Sign Language (LENSEGUA) presents a significant barrier. Bible instructors must take a slow and deliberate approach, teaching verse-by-verse to ensure that previously unfamiliar words become understandable for their deaf congregation. This process is undoubtedly challenging and requires a deep commitment to making the gospel accessible to this underserved community.
Edna and her husband, Reuben, have been dedicated to addressing the unique needs of the deaf community in Escuintla for five years. This ministry was established in 2010 after a local leader, David Lara, and his congregation began praying about how to start a deaf ministry within their church and who should lead it. Over the past 13 years, the ministry has seen the Lord’s faithfulness in providing leaders, even those without a background in sign language, who have committed their time to taking classes to better communicate the gospel to this unreached population.
El Camino’s dedication to this ministry and work is instrumental in bringing the message of faith and hope to the deaf community in Escuintla and ensuring that they can fully participate in the life of the church. Since 2021, 127 Worldwide has been actively involved in supporting this vital ministry through the Partner Grant Program. This support includes grants for sign language classes, addressing important ministry needs, and organizing spiritual retreats. This partnership has played a crucial role in advancing the outreach and services provided by El Camino to the deaf community in Escuintla.
During a visit to the United States in April of 2022, David met a woman named Jill for the first time. After learning of her dedication to her deaf community in Knoxville, TN, he invited Jill to visit El Camino in Guatemala and meet Edna and her husband, Reuben. After a year and a lot of prayer, Jill dedicated herself to God’s call to serve alongside David’s family and El Camino, even though it meant stepping out of her comfort zone and traveling internationally for the first time. This past summer Jill joined the 127 Connect Team to Guatemala to walk alongside the work of David, his family, and El Camino.
The instant connection between Jill and Edna, facilitated by the similarities between American Sign Language and LENSEGUA, is a testament to the power of shared purpose and faith. Despite the spoken language barrier, they were able to communicate effectively and bond over their shared commitment to serving the deaf community. Their realization that they face similar challenges in different parts of the world underscores the universality of the struggles and needs within the deaf community. Their friendship has not only enriched their personal lives but also allowed them to support and uplift each other in their respective ministries, even after Jill’s visit concluded.
127 Worldwide takes great joy in connecting advocates like Jill with 127 local leaders and ministries like El Camino and its church leaders. These connections within the global church serve as a powerful reminder of the beauty of people coming together to encourage and support vulnerable communities around the world.