Forty-two deaf people were baptized last Sabbath in Burundi as Seventh-day Adventist efforts to proclaim Jesus’ soon return to those with special needs gain steam across Africa.
A weeklong camp meeting attended by more than 100 deaf people culminated with the 42 baptisms on Sept. 2, said Paul Muasya, special needs ministries coordinator for the Adventist Church’s East-Central Africa Division, whose territory includes Burundi.
Alain Coralie, the division’s executive secretary, praised God for the “great news” in an e-mail to Adventist Mission.
“The East-Central Africa Division is committed at reaching everyone in its territory with the three angels’ message of Jesus’ coming, and this includes people with disabilities,” Coralie said. “By God’s grace and in His Spirit, we’re not going to slow down. The gospel needs to be shared.”
Saturday’s baptisms bring the number of deaf church members in Burundi to 67. The first-ever deaf baptisms, of 25 people, took place in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, on March 25. The Adventist Church has about 119,000 members in this country of 10.5 million people, according to the latest figures from the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
Larry Evans, who oversees special needs outreach for the Adventist world church, said the Burundi baptisms are “not only encouraging but also one more indication that the movement to reach those who are deaf or who have special needs is indeed expanding at a phenomenal pace.”
Indeed, 90 disabled people were baptized in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, at a special needs conference on Aug. 6 to 12, the East-Central Africa Division reported on its website. Elsewhere in the division, 23 deaf people were baptized in Uganda earlier this year, and 45 deaf people were among the 73,188 people baptized at evangelistic meetings at 4,000 sites across Kenya on March 18.
“It seems obvious to me that the Lord is blessing the efforts of those who have sought out those who have been marginalized by both society and the church and offered them hope,” Evans said. “Something is under way that causes us to pause and reflect on what the Lord is doing for this special group.”
Evans has been busy since he was appointed to a newly created special needs position just two years ago. This weekend, he attended an interpreters for the deaf meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, and, before that, he was working on improvements on the church’s months-old television channel for the deaf, hopechanneldeaf.org.
He was especially moved by the baptism of 34 people at a special needs camp meeting in Zimbabwe in August. Evans described the Zimbabwe experience as “life changing in many ways.”
Writing in a monthly newsletter, he said: “I was asked to make an appeal for baptism after my Sabbath sermon. Forty had completed the Voice of Prophecy Bible study lessons. I made the call and 34 came forward for baptism! I was overwhelmed with the response. I had never experienced so many in wheelchairs come forward to an altar call.
“That afternoon 15 deaf, 10 in wheelchairs, and nine ‘able-bodied’ were baptized. Some of those in wheelchairs had no control of their legs or arms. I was so moved by their experience.
“Afterward, with beaming smiles, some shouted, ‘I’m baptized, I’m baptized, thank you Jesus!’ The impossible happened and they were visibly rejoicing. In the midst of all the excitement, I paused. Silently I prayed and thought of all the uncertainties that I’ve faced over the last several years and now those uncertainties had a reason. I just couldn’t see why at the time.”
Evans also said the camp meeting’s closing service left a tremendous impression on him. At the front of the audience, cakes were placed before three people: a blind person, a deaf person, and a physically disabled person. Each was asked to cut out a piece of the cake.
The sighted person helped the blind person. An interpreter explained to the deaf person what to do. And the physically disabled person, who had no use of arms or legs, used the best resource he had — his mouth, in which an able-bodied person placed a knife, Evans said.
“But it didn’t stop there!” he said. “The sighted person fed the blind person the cake. The blind person fed the deaf person, and the deaf and the physically handicapped person fed each other. No one was better than the other, and each needed the other. The message was clear: We need each and each has been called to serve all. Surely, a powerful message for a world that disparages those often whom they call disabled.”