First Baptist Church Brandon hosted its Vacation Bible School June 18-22 and it did so in English as well as American Sign Language.
In past years, Suzanne Austin-Hill, coordinator of FBC Brandon’s Deaf Ministry, has co-taught a VBS class along with Laura Simpson, who is Deaf. Simpson, a member of the church’s in-house interpreter team, and Austin-Hill have taught students who are Deaf, hard of hearing and/or who have special needs.
This year Simpson taught a class of hearing students and was assisted by a youth worker who is also Deaf.
“God has used our current Senior Pastor, Tim Keith, and our Pastor of Music, David Shenning, to encourage, support and promote our growth,” Austin-Hill said.
The Deaf Ministry at FBC Brandon started more than ten years ago when a family returned to the church while visiting friends and family one Christmas season. The family’s son is Deaf and his mom asked if she could interpret the service for him. The pastor at the time was Tommy Green, now executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, and during that time, he said, the church had been praying and talking about a new focus in ministry.
“It’s an amazing ministry that tends to a very real need in the community,” said Green.
In addition to interpreting this year’s VBS worship service, every Sunday year-round the ministry interprets the entire worship service including the pastor’s sermon. Using a LifeWay curriculum written specifically for the Deaf, FBC Brandon offers a Sunday school class conducted in Sign Language.
“We have some great teachers, most of whom are Deaf.” Austin-Hill added.
Austin-Hill said this kind of ministry needs three quality individuals: “Someone who desires to receive God’s word in Sign Language, someone to provide a clear and accurate interpretation, and a shepherd who recognizes the importance of this ministry.”
FBC Brandon’s Deaf ministry is also crossing city limits by connecting with Deaf ministry leaders at Calvary Church in nearby Clearwater and Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. Through FaceTime, disciples who are Deaf connect and leaders are able to share knowledge and ideas.
The International Mission Board reports that most of the 35 million Deaf people around the world have never seen Jesus’s name signed in their language and are some of the least evangelized people on earth.
The Deaf ministry at FBC Brandon is striving to push back that lostness and give more people access to the Gospel.
“An interpreter is a bridge of communication and our charge from God is to give the clearest and most accurate interpretation that we can give,” Austin-Hill said.
By Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Convention, July 18, 2018