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“2011 Deaf Ministry Conference”

By Ann Maniscalco

Deaf Ministry Conference photoNestled just beyond a quiet subdivision in Clinton, moss-draped trees set a sentinel over the grounds of Garaywa Camp and Conference Center (www.garaywa.org). The treasured facility, owned by Mississippi’s Woman’s Missionary Union, offers a tranquil getaway for retreats, conferences, summer camps, missionary meetings and training in various areas of ministry.

Mississippi Baptists’ gifts through the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering help maintain the facilities at Garaywa. Another of the dozen life-changing components the Offering helps fund is Language/Deaf Ministries, and each fall, the Mississippi Baptist Conference of the Deaf (MBCD) draws scores of Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons, along with sign language interpreters, deaf ministry leaders, families and friends to the secluded campground.

“Many Deaf do not have a place where they can worship in their own language and culture. MBCD gives them that opportunity,” states Jim Booth, long-time deaf ministry leader. As Consultant for Deaf Ministries for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, Booth works with a planning committee of deaf and hearing believers to make this annual event one of spiritual growth, challenge and encouragement for those attending the weekend retreat.

As usual, the committee pulled together an outstanding group of leaders, including camp pastor Chip Penland, (pastor to the Deaf at Kirby Woods Baptist Church, Memphis TN), Robert and Cindy Moore of Charlotte, NC, and Larry Barnett, of Austin, TX. Interspersed with the times of discipleship were presentations of music and drama, as well as opportunities for relaxation and good fellowship.

Teresa Burns, currently MBCD’s President, was pleased with the 2011 event, held September 23rd – 25th. “It was a very good conference”, the energetic Burns (who has attended the conference for at least the past ten years) said with a smile. “We had close to one hundred in attendance.” Twenty or more deaf ministries from across the state were represented, she added.

Not only do the Deaf benefit from the workshops, Bible studies and preaching, interpreters - including students of interpreter training programs (ITPs) - gain knowledge and communication skills from workshops designed for them. Deaf presenter Robert Moore, an instructor of ASL (American Sign Language) studies at Gardner-Webb University, led interpreters in an innovative and helpful two-session workshop on Saturday.

Countless Deaf and those who love them have been impacted by Mississippi deaf ministries over the years. According to The History of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ministry to the Deaf, by Carter Bearden, Sr., “In 1988, the Mississippi Baptist Conference of the Deaf emerged when its constitution and by-laws were approved, and the first officers were chosen.” But at least as early as the 1960s, records show a steady stream of leaders in whose hearts God instilled a compassion for the Deaf; names such as Jerry St. John, Rodney Webb, T.H. Barron, Richard Alford and Jim Booth are among these faithful servants.

Workshop session photo Rachael Patterson, interpreter and deaf ministry coordinator at First Baptist Church of Pascagoula, has been involved with the Deaf since learning sign language from Mollie and T.H. Barron in 1974. A skilled interpreter, Patterson treasures her times at MBCD. “I have attended every year except one,” she mentioned. Calling it “a place I can go and be totally immersed in ‘the deaf world’”, she is quick to put the next year’s dates on her calendar. “I have truly learned so much from deaf individuals. When I leave each year, I can hardly wait to go back.”

Patterson’s daughter-in-law, Angela, has taken an interest in the Deaf. As a novice sign language user, she attended MBCD for the first time. The conference, with its heavy emphasis on preaching and Bible study, had a profound effect on the young mother. “I came to learn sign language,” she admitted, “but I learned more about God than I did sign language.”

Next year’s MBCD dates are September 28th – 30th. Our continued support of the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering will assure that the Deaf can continue to have this opportunity to “hear” God’s word and respond to His call.

South Mississippi writer Ann Maniscalco, whose daughter is Deaf, thanks God for the experiences and relationships that learning to sign has brought her way.