MNI Presents at the Global Methodist Missions Conference of the Deaf
Reverend Margaret Mukami Lawi, a Deaf Methodist pastor from Kenya, wholeheartedly expressed gratitude for the Americans who traveled overseas to help her church, but when it came to how they worked, she was stymied. “Not much development work happens because we aren’t a part of the process of planning. We don’t know what materials they are bringing and they don’t ask us what we need.” Rev. Lawi sat on a listening panel of Deaf and hearing church workers at the Fourth Global Methodist Missions Conference of the Deaf held in Waxachachie, Tex., on August 1-4, 2017. Panelists from the U.S., Ghana, Brazil, South Korea, Kenya and Sri Lanka responded to questions posed by the moderator, Sarah Houge, Mill Neck International’s Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.
The day prior, Houge and Dr. Amy Wilson, the Director of Mill Neck International, presented to the mixed group of 150 Deaf and hearing people doing ministry in the U.S. and abroad. They shared best practices of working together for development and how missionaries and volunteers can empower the millions of Deaf people living in poverty. Houge asked the panel participants probing questions related to this theme and how help coming from churches had affected the lives of those Deaf people who had received it.
“Before we traveled to Kenya, we knew we wanted to offer support but we weren’t quite sure how to do it,” shared Rev. Kirk VanGilder, a professor from Gallaudet University who has made several mission trips to Africa. “Before mission trips, the Americans would make all the plans about what was going to happen when they arrived in the country. Now I understand we need to flip that dynamic. The Deaf Kenyans know much better what they want. Our role in planning should lessen as the Kenyans take more control of projects.” Rev. Lawi beamed and enthusiastically shook her head as she saw VanGilder’s comments interpreted from American Sign Language into her native Kenyan Sign Language.
Mill Neck International envisions a world in which Deaf people are included, empowered, celebrated and embraced as equals; they encourage churches and faith-based groups to reconsider how they “help” their constituents. Dr. Wilson said, “Sarah and I are thrilled when we see faith-based organizations first as Deaf groups overseas what kind of assistance they want and then discern what assets already exist in the community. Then they collaborate to create a project the community needs and often it is supporting Deaf people overseas running projects independently.” Houge added, “If mission groups go over and do work for Deaf people rather than sharing knowledge and training, for example, Deaf people will continue to be dependent on others. Churches really don’t want to be hurting people more than helping them.”