TRAVEL REPORT: Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia and South Africa
September 2, 2018
You may see the pictures in a slide format by clicking on the links to Power Point presentations listed at the end of the report.
A Brief Overview of the Historical Development of Special Needs Ministries in Africa
The first work for Special Needs Ministries in the East Central Africa Division (ECD) began with the Deaf in 2011 in Kenya.A small group of us from the United States responded to the invitation of Elder Paul Muasya, then Kenya Union President. We did not think there were many deaf in the Nairobi area, but we were not sure.We were all surprised when about 40-50 came to the seminars.We learned that many Adventists had been going to Sunday churches because little was offered for the deaf in our Adventist churches.Under the leadership of Elder Muasya that soon dramatically changed. In 2012 the second largest baptism of deaf in the known history of the Adventist Church occurred when 133 deaf were baptized.Pastor Muasya placed a strong emphasis on training more interpreters and Bible workers. Since then special camp meetings for the deaf have taken place annually. In 2010 Kenya was divided into two unions and Pastor Muasya because Field Secretary for the division bearing the responsibility of Special Needs Ministries.This ministry was expanded to include the blind and other special needs groups as recommended by the General Conference.With time the ministry of Special Needs has expanded to other countries in the division.This report includes two countries in this division: Rwanda and Kenya.
This was my first visit to Rwanda.I was impressed with the cleanliness of the country.Rwanda was the home of the 2016 General Conference’s evangelistic thrust when over 100,000 were baptized that year in this country alone. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the largest Protestant denomination in Rwanda.I was one of the speakers at the first Special Needs Camp Meeting.It was held this year in Kigali. Over 400 registered to attend and were composed of the Deaf, the blind and those with mobility challenges. More than 1,000 attended on Sabbath. It was a moving experience to see scores of deaf and special needs individuals enthusiastically go to the lake for baptism.Eighty-seven were baptized on Sabbath, the majority of whom were deaf. Especially touching was seeing those who could not walk be carried into the water and be baptized. I kept telling myself, “These people (and more) have been here all the time!For whatever reason they had not been ‘discovered.’ The time has come to change that!”All across Africa the picture is changing!Exciting visionary plans are being made.We have much more to do but the fire has been lit.Another special moment came during this camp meeting when over 50 interpreters for the deaf were graduated!! The training and use of sign language interpreters have been the key to the fast growth of the Deaf Ministry in the division.
Another feature linked to the camp meeting was the emphasis on health. The government, learning of the coming gathering of individuals with special needs, provided free immunizations.So often these individuals are difficult to find and immunize. During the camp meeting over 40 wheelchairs were distributed for free.At the close of the camp meeting, the mayor and high-ranking government officials expressed sincere appreciation for the work the Adventist Church is doing—one of whom is a Muslim. My personal conversations about our desire to work closely with them was well received.They spoke publicly of their desire to partner with the Church to meet these special needs. I wish you could have been there to see how the foundation is being established for a well-grounded and sustained work for the deaf and those with special needs.
Special Needs Camp Meetings in ECD began in Kenya and have been held in various locations since 2012.They have grown to such a point that it is likely that each of the two Kenya unions will have its own camp meeting next year.This year was unique, however.For some time, Elder John Blake, retired pastor and currently the global coordinator for Gospel Outreach for the Deaf, and I have felt it was important for all the task force workers in Africa to receive some continuing education.These lay workers are, in most instances, those who will be teaching and mentoring new deaf converts.We decided to pool our resources and provide the transportation for all Gospel Outreach deaf task force workers in the three African divisions to come to a special training event. The three divisions provided the food and lodging.Pat Gustin, a missiologist and retired professor from Andrews University Theological Seminary, agreed to accept our invitation to come and present a story-telling approach for teaching our message.Elder Jeff Jordan, my honorary GC associate for the Deaf, and Elder Thompson Kay, an author and interpreter for the Deaf, also came and spoke for the camp meeting which ran concurrently with the training program.A total of 73 attended the training event which was made up of 27 Gospel Outreach workers, 6 Global Mission Pioneers and 40 union, conference and other group leaders. Six hundred thirty-seven registered for the camp meeting and several more came on Sabbath. There was not enough room in the building so speakers were setup outside to accommodate the overflow.
One very special moment came when I met with 13 blind individuals.Two had been receiving materials from Christian Record.We are hoping that an arrangement can be worked out, so it can resume by the first of next year. Arrangements are underway for the General Conference Special Needs Ministries and Christian Record Services to partner in order to expand the global work for the blind. My meeting with the blind was an enriching experience for me and, I believe, for them. To hear them tell how they have felt ignored was hurtful, but necessary to hear. Change is coming!!I wish you could have heard the blind sing for that camp meeting. Heaven can’t come soon enough but what a sample this was!
Occasionally I hear reports that the Church doesn’t give much emphasis to Jesus. I wish these critics could come on one of these trips! One non-Adventist young adult, after attending the camp meeting, wrote and asked how she could be part of Special Needs Ministries. Then, speaking of the whole team, she wrote the following: “I didn't know that God had a purpose for it....and all answers to my questions which I have been waiting for over 5 years now....all the preaching . . . was all about me...i was broken but now am made whole, I was walking with my head bend down but now am walking with my head up...I didn't believe in myself but now I do it with all my heart. I made sure I said hello after every sermon and went back to pray telling God thank you.... all people I met talked to me about Jesus”. She is now planning to be baptized and work with Special Needs Ministries!
Due to conflicts in my schedule, I was not able to accept the invitation to attend/speak at the first Special Needs Ministries Camp Meeting. Zambia is in the Southern Africa – Indian Ocean Division. Dr. Halvard Thomsen went in my place and did an excellent work! It was a life- changing experience for him as it has been for everyone who spends any time with the Deaf and those with special needs. Hal serves as the administrative adviser for the Director’s Council. This was a great opportunity for him to see the fruit of this ministry. His presence and presentations were greatly appreciated.
The Adventist Church began working in Zambia in 1903. Today it is the 3rd largest denomination in the country with a ratio of one out of every fourteen residents being an Adventist. Two hundred registered for the camp meeting. The work for Special Needs Ministry (SNM) holds great promise.Pastor Mulambo Passmore is the division director for SNM.
Pretoria, South Africa
Originally, I was invited to conduct the first week to 10 days of an evangelistic series for those who are deaf or have special needs.This was changed, a few days before, to speaking to 12th grade students who were deaf or who have special needs (blind, etc.).In my “former life” I had worked with youth, but I wasn’t sure how it would go now so many years later.I was pleasantly surprised. What a great group of about 45 youth.I can sign and “slowly” read American Sign Language letters. That was enough to have fun.A definite bond resulted. A caring interpreter for the deaf, Zee Lekgwara, has been working at the school as a volunteer.Through her influence, the school was open for me to come and present devotionals. Pastor Passmore Mulambo, SNM Director for the Southern Indian Ocean Division, helped make it possible. At the close the local Hope Channel asked me to interview Calvin Mogajan, a blind 19-year-old 12th grader. When he was young an operation went horribly wrong and he became blind. Life became a struggle, but he told himself, “blind doesn’t mean I’m incapable.” He heard inspirational stories read on the radio and decided that he could write his own books to inspire others.Though busy with school work, he has just completed writing his third book, The Strong Woman.Describing his goal he says, “My books are based on real life stories. My aim is to try and show people that no matter how hard things may seem, there are good times ahead for all of us.”
A Life Principle Repeated Over and Over Again
My own experience was reaffirmed through the experiences of so many that I met on this trip: “Difficult times, and often unexpected challenges, may come but don’t try to write the conclusion while God is still adding chapters!” This was once again a faith-affirming trip.
Larry R. Evans, DMin
Assistant to the President
Special Needs Ministries
General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists