Life has a way of throwing challenges at a person. Oftentimes the way we respond to that challenge shapes not only our outlook on life, but our outlook on who we are. I recently returned with the Dispatch team after spending a week in Jamaica working alongside locals living at the Jamaica Deaf Village. The people we worked with were a lot of things, but nothing if not overcomers. In a short week, I was challenged in my own outlook on life and personal identity and I pray that my heart’s observation will not be lost as I return back to my daily life.
To back up, the Jamaica Deaf Village is a place where deaf people can live, work, and have community. In Jamaica, there is a very high unemployment rate for deaf people. Many of Jamaica’s deaf individuals lack language skills as well - not necessarily due to a shortage of resources. As a whole, it can be very difficult for deaf people in Jamaica to be viewed as capable, intelligent people. Many children who are deaf have never had their parents or siblings even attempt to communicate with them through sign language. The good news is that there is a mission organization who saw this need over 60 years ago. The Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf has established four different K-12 schools throughout Jamaica where children can learn sign language, get an education, and receive the Gospel. At these schools, many different skills are also learned that are beneficial to the individual for future work opportunities.
During our time at the Jamaica Deaf Village, we joined with workers from this community on projects which included painting and some ceiling drywall work - not an easy task! The main challenge was how to accomplish the work ahead of us without having the tools and resources we are used to. All of us were amazed at the resourcefulness of the people we worked with. We shared lunch with the workers each day too. Not everyone on our team is fluent in sign language so we had to rely some on one of the American missionaries who could assist us in translation. The rest of the time we communicated through facial expressions or our own limited signing abilities.
We were able to visit the Kingston school and enjoyed a presentation from the students working with Deaf Can Coffee. This ministry exists to affirm young people that they are made in the image of God. They have unique abilities and one in particular is all things coffee! The students are trained as baristas and the organization offers different services to businesses and people around Jamaica. Not only do they have a successful business model, they are helping to change the minds of people who think deaf people aren’t capable and showing them that Deaf Can!
This service trip was eye opening in so many ways. I was touched by the resilience of all the people I met and interacted with. Not everyone grew up feeling loved and supported. In their difference they were isolated and alone. But with community and the good news of the Gospel, they are living wonderful and fulfilled lives. Not all is perfect, but I saw joy in beautiful ways. The deaf have to engage differently - they can’t be distracted by other things when they communicate. This form of communication, to me, seemed so genuine and intentional. It was a wonder to sit in silence and yet see so much communication and connection happening all around me. It felt worshipful.
I come back with a renewed spirit and outlook...not to mention a love for the beautiful people I met in Jamaica. I hope God opens a door for me to return in the future to visit my new friends.
- Rachael Weiland