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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Unigueness of Deafness!

Deafness is a vast topic and this will be the first post of many.  Many sub-topics introduced below will be expounded upon in later posts.

Deafness is unique in many ways.  First and foremost it is the ONLY "disability" that has its own culture and language--the Deaf Culture


International symbol for deafness.

I remember as a teenager being told, by my sister-in-law, that our d/Deaf family members had their own distinct culture, separate from us.  Note: The lower case "d" represents the all encompassing group of people with varying levels of hearing loss while the capital "D" represents those deaf people who identify with the Deaf Culture.  Some people use these terms differently than stated above, but when I use the d/Deaf term the above is my definition. Simply being deaf does not automatically place you in the Deaf group.  Fluency or native-like signing of American Sign Language, the recognized manual language (as opposed to spoken/heard language) of American Deaf people, is the most important qualification for identity and access into the Deaf Culture.  Other shared experiences, such as growing up in an all-deaf school, adds credence to ones acceptance into their culture, as well.

I had no idea what d/Deaf meant before I returned to college in 2000 and began researching deafness.  Until one spends time contemplating and researching deafness the ability to grasp a full understanding of many of these facts/truths is rare.  Deafness and Deaf Culture can be compared to an onion--once you have gained some level of understanding in one area of this vast topic you have simply peeled away one layer and exposed the next.  Most likely these things are never given a second thought by the majority of people in the hearing world.  That is, unless deafness directly affects you or someone you love. 

Another disability, that is often mistakenly "lumped" together with deafness is blindness.  However, those who are blind are still granted access into the same hearing/speaking culture.  Unless, of course, they are deaf and blind


Utilizing "tactile signing" with a deaf/blind person.


The lack of hearing affects the ability to speak clearly.  God created us in such a way that it is when we hear ourselves and others speak that we learn spoken language, whereby we  know if we have made the correct sound or not.  The two are so vastly interwoven.  When it comes to communication, being understood by the person with whom you are communicating with is the single most important part of that communication.  Without the ability to speak plainly deaf people are rarely fully accepted or embraced into the hearing majority world.

Naturally, a hearing infant/baby begins to make sounds (babbling) and when they hear the sounds they produce--and realize they in fact are making those strange noises--they become fascinated with their own voices. Deaf infants/babies make the same sounds, but they cannot hear them. The hearing child then begins to try to mimic or copy what another person is saying to them.  We, as hearing parents or adults, encourage them to do this by talking and interacting with them when they produce their sounds.  As they begin to produce the correct sound for a word they are praised and the brain begins to recognize and memorize how certain sounds are achieved by practicing words and sounds over and over again.  This is a simplistic explanation of the natural learning of a spoken language.

Deaf people cannot hear others speech clearly and cannot hear themselves speak clearly.  Hearing aids can be helpful for allowing deaf people to increase their ability to understand spoken language through their residual hearing--amount of hearing they do have.  The benefits of hearing aids vary greatly from one deaf person to the next, since each deaf persons' deafness is as unique as they are.  For the majority of deaf people most of their speech is learned only through unnatural means, such as speech therapy which focuses on felt vibrations in the mouth, face and neck, specific placement of the tongue, and then memorization of what letter(s)/words feel like when produced.  Speechreading (also known as lip-reading) is an additional tool utilized by deaf people to understand the person they are communicating with through speech. Skill levels in speechreading is once again unique for each person. The level of the knowledge of a spoken language--a deaf person has mastered--is directly related to the level with which a deaf person can speechread accurately. Environmental factors also affect the ability to speechread with accuracy.  Those factors include lighting, face-to-face proximity to the person speaking, facial hair, mouth movements of the person speaking and knowledge of the topic discussed, just to name a few.

The development of clear speech for those who identify with the Deaf Culture is typically not a desired goal.  Those who identify deeply with the Deaf Culture are happy being deaf and do not see the need to become as "hearing" as possible.  They do not feel they are broken and need to be fixed.  Many live full and rich lives just as their hearing counterparts do.  Some deaf people do believe developing their speech to its fullest extent, whatever that may be, will grant them better access into the majority hearing world and possibly grant them better job opportunities.  




Of course, there are many natural aspects of speech that are lost through this type of training to speak. An interesting phenomenon that has occurred because of this training is the fact that deaf people will often sound similar in their articulation of words when they speak.  If you are around deaf people for any length of time, you learn to recognize similar speech patterns and what their "deaf voices" sounds like. That is, if they feel comfortable enough with you to share them with you. Yes, most deaf people have a similar recognizable speech pattern because of the endless hours of speech training they have received during childhood.  Daily hours of speech training is a common ritual for deaf/HOH children. 

One interesting fact: More than 90% of deaf/HOH children are born to or raised by hearing parents. That means hearing parents, most often have no idea there is a Deaf Community and Culture, make their decisions for their deaf/HOH children based solely on the medical aspects of deafness.  And for those deaf children whose hearing parents choose the route of speech/hearing as the mode of communication for their deaf/HOH child, rarely are they exposed to the Deaf Community and their culture.

I have intentionally left the Cochlear Implant out of this post.  It will be addressed in postings in the future.   

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Many Deaf people embrace this verse, Exodus 4:11. 

 Then the Lord said to him, "Who made a person's mouth? And who makes someone deaf or not able to speak? Or who gives a person sight or blindness? It is I, the Lord.



Sunday, June 24, 2012

"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away... blessed be the name of the Lord!"


I never dreamed I would be posting a follow-up blog about our new car.  Since I shared the story of how God had provided us this new car, last week, I thought I should tell you...the rest of the story.

I had mentioned in the previous post that I had asked Charles to do the car-trading while I was in Africa, but he did not.  I did not want any part of it.  He reminded me, when he read the blog post, that he couldn't do anything with the car while I was gone since Rachel was driving it while I was away.  

Obviously, this was an experience God wanted us to experience together. 
Wednesday, June 20
Last Friday afternoon, two days and 60 miles after we got the new car, Charles and I decided to run a couple of errands and drop something by the Bradshaw's home.  It began to rain as we got closer to their home.  By the time we arrived it was raining so hard that I decided to drive around the block before stopping.  If we tried to get out of the car to go inside we would easily be drenched instantly.  Maybe the rain would slack off in a few minutes.  

As we drove passed the Bradshaw's home things only got worse.  It was raining so hard we could only see a few feet in front of us.  I was probably only driving 5 maybe 10 mph.  The wind was horrific!  Every once in a while the rain slowed enough so we could see huge trees swaying back and forth.  Small branches of trees were falling onto the road in front of us.  I had just asked Charles if I should try and find somewhere to pull over, until the storm passed, when suddenly...THUD, CRUNCH! Simultaneously, the entire windshield caved in unexpectedly and we were surrounded with green leaves pressing against not only the windshield but also the window on the driver's side of the car...my side.  I didn't put the brake on, but we were no longer moving forward.  I put the car in PARK.  I kept waiting for the windshield to fall into our laps.  Thankfully, it did not!  Charles asked if I was okay; I told him I was fine.  I asked if he was okay; he was fine, too.  Neither one of us had a scratch on us!  Thank God!



Friday, June 22
When Charles called 911, once they found out we were not injured, they told us to stay in the car until the police arrived, in case there might be power lines down, too.  Biltmore Forest police arrived about 10 minutes later; one in front of us and one behind us.  They helped me get out of the car, but since Charles could not open his door he crawled out on my side.  They explained that it took them so long to get to us because there were other trees down along the way to us.  


There were actually two trees that fell across the road, but only branches of the trees hit the car windshield and hood.  The largest was probably 2 feet in diameter at the base of the tree--an oak. 



We called the Bradshaws to let them know what happened and they came to be with us, bringing umbrellas and water bottles.  It was such a comfort to have friends/believers with us during this time.  About 30 minutes later and numerous phone calls later--to report the accident to our insurance company and AAA for towing--a front-end loader and man with a chainsaw showed up.  Enough branches were cut so that Charles could back the car out from under the tree so the front-end loader could push the trees out of the road.  Someone would come back later to finish the job. 

You can see where many small pieces of glass fell all over Charles; 
the V where he was sitting and the places where his feet were.
As Charles was backing the car up, out from under the trees, WLOS news pulled up. They wanted to interview me.  At first I thought, "This is crazy!" I really didn't think this was much of a "story", but I consented.  God allowed me to share that He was the One to protect us and they even put that part on the news!  I am thankful I wasn't too proud to be interviewed, even if that was my first reaction. 




Since it was Friday afternoon when this happened, it will be sometime next week before we know if the car will be "totaled" or if they require us to fix it.  Many people believe it is totaled because of the damage to Charles' side of the car.


 
We are both fully aware that had we been only a second sooner, we could easily have been seriously injured or even killed.  Honestly, concerning the car, it was easy for me to say, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  Had it been Charles, that He took away...could I say the same thing? 


Job 1:21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”






Friday, June 22, 2012

Assumptions....Is it prayer-worthy or not?

I don't know about you, but I sometimes find myself apologizing because I have "assumed" something to be accurate, when in fact it is not.  That word--assumption--should be considered a 4-letter word.  Maybe that would help to remind me to avoid it at all costs.  

Whether it is husband-wife, parent-child, boss-employee, family member-family member, co-worker-co-worker, friend-friend...and even God-to His children... "assumptions" can be life-altering and sometimes even deadly!

I was reminded of this last Sunday during Bible study (Joshua 6 -7).  We were studying about the Israelites and how they planned how best to attack their next foe.  God had been very precise in His battle instructions previously, which granted His people an easy victory, however this time the Israelites assumed they knew how best to attack.  It was a more logical plan of attack, instead of a God-led by-faith one.  In this instance, their "assumption/pride" was cause for 36 Israelites being killed and God's name being used in vain.  


I have to wonder how many times I have decided by "assumption/pride" to do something on my own instead of asking God how He wants me to do it...or IF He wants me to do it at all?  Were my decisions/assumptions ones I consciously made without any regard to what God might think, or were they simply thoughts that I acted on without it even occurring to me that I should ask my heavenly Father IF this was...HIS PLAN or NOT?  Either way, it is wrong!

I have known for years, the many consequences the Israelites endured because of their lack of seeking God's plan or their unwillingness to follow His plan when He revealed it.  The scriptures are clear in exposing them.  As I look back, over my own life (even this week), I wonder what I have needlessly endured or completely missed because I chose my way instead of His?

Why is it we categorize some things as being prayer-worthy and others as not?  

Wednesday, this week, Charles and I had agreed to go "car-shopping".  I was elated...NOT!  I had asked him to take care of this while I was in Africa, but he did not.  Of course he would not do this without me being present.  The reason for our car-shopping?  My current car was nearing 100,000 miles, needed new tires and possibly brakes/pads and our monthly payment was too high.  That morning, I had shared with Rachel how much I was not looking forward to the day.  I had asked her to pray for my attitude as I just wanted the best deal and really didn't care about which car.  Rachel then texted her dad to let him know of my dread and to remind him we didn't need to buy anything elaborate.  This was not news to him.

As we were driving to our first car lot, there were three on the list, I asked Charles to pray for our day.  He said he already had, but I asked him to do it again...together.  He complied with a very specific prayer.  "God, we want you to guide us today.  Help us to find the best possible deal, lower our monthly payment and pay no out of pocket expenses."  Short and sweet, but to the point.  This was our plan....period!  Of course, we were not convinced this was even possible.  But, hopefully, this was His plan, too!

Apparently, it was God's plan too!  Our first stop ended up being our last!  Yes, it took over 4 hours (not as bad as it sounds), but we drove a 2012 car off the lot (higher quality than what I was currently driving) without paying a single penny for anything!  And we lowered our monthly payment by $100!  Thank you, LORD!

What would our "car-shopping" day have looked like IF we had not prayed? 


Now, IF I will completely surrender to Him the responsibility of leading me how to raise the funds needed for Signs for Hope, what will He do?  Please, pray that I can surrender this category to Him so specifically, as well.  I do not want to assume this person will give or this organization will not.  I so want this to be a God-led by-faith plan and not one of logic!  I want Him to receive all the glory...for every penny of it!

Many scriptures come to mind surrounding this particular topic.  A few are below.

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Romans 12:1-2Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

James 4:13-15 

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

Pray continually! 

Philippians 4:6 

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.



Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Liberia?

Often, people ask me,  "Why is Signs for Hope working with Deaf children in Liberia?  Why not Haiti or Honduras or some where closer home, less costly to get to and less volatile?  You know, they have Deaf orphans, too?" 

The answer I give them is the same answer I give to many questions people ask me these days, simply, "God led me there, that's why!"

Liberia was still listed in the top 4 poorest countries in the world in 2011.  Some websites place it as number 2 and others, number 4.  The top five are really very close in their poverty levels.  An FYI..., Haiti is usually closer to number 15 or 20 even post-earthquake.  

13 years of civil wars has all but destroyed Liberia and its people.  Government efforts to reconstruct the vital infrastructure of this country have been extremely slow since the end of the war in 2003.  Most former American, European, and Asian business, which was booming in Liberia in the 70's and 80's before the war, remains leery of return.  The UN is still present in Liberia and while there are no current "travel warnings" for Liberia, the State Department is detailed in listing concerns for those who plan to travel there.  Medical facilities in Liberia are almost non-existent and one of our team was told there is only one orthopedic doctor country-wide.  We secure medical evacuation insurance each time we travel to Liberia.

The Liberia 2012 Team!
                                                        
As God began to unfold His plan "to coordinate the adoption of Deaf orphans in the world" to me, I realized that I had never been in an orphanage, much less an orphanage for Deaf children.  I once again turned to my trusted friend, the Internet, to search for the place where I could experience Deaf orphans face-to-face.  I knew the Lord would lead me to the Deaf orphanage He wanted me to go.  It was early 2009 when I set out on this quest.  It was not an all-consuming quest, mind you, but it was one of my focal areas, at that time.  I was also researching the whole new world of adoption, Deaf adoptions and, as I had done for the past decade, Deaf education research and resources. 

Quickly, I realized that just searching "deaf orphan" did not produce the best or most results; so I began to search for Deaf orphans in specific countries; for example "deaf Vietnam orphan" and "deaf Philippines orphan".  I remember well, searching these two.  The number of "hits" for most of my searches were very limited.  While this more specific search gave me some additional information in specific countries, I discovered finding the Deaf orphans was not a simple straight-forward task.  Some of the "hits" were from many years prior, so I began adding the date "2009" to my searches.  If there were any "hits" for my specific searches they revealed not only current ministries in those countries, but also any blogs where people had visited those countries on mission trips or blogs of people who had adopted children from those countries.  But, again, the number of "hits" for each country was very small in number and sometimes only two maybe three. 

Somewhere along the line I began to notice a recurrence though...Liberia...Liberia...Liberia!  These early God-connections to Liberia came from multiple places.   Some of you would politely remind me, now, that if I had been journaling I would know exactly how many connections there were.  So true!  While all of the connects were not directly related to Deaf Liberian orphans or their adoption, they were unmistakeably...Liberia!  

I remember being connected to an Asheville family who had adopted two boys from Liberia. Then someone reminded me of a former church-member who had grown up as a missionary-kid in Liberia, back in the 60's & 70's.   I found two families, on-line, who had recently adopted Deaf children from Liberia.  Wow!  Not long after finding one of them, some of their private information was hacked and the family shut their blog down for a time.  I was so disappointed when this happened.  But before it did, I was connected, for the second time, to a woman by the name of Angel Rutledge.  I had previously been on a website that had detailed her team's recent mission trip to Liberia in March 2009 and more specifically this team had worked with...you guessed it...Deaf orphans in Liberia!

Construction continues on the vocational trade school!

There was a phone number on the website and so I called it!  I was eventually connect to Angel's cell phone.  My first conversation with Angel was in the afternoon back in April 2009.  I still remember some specifics of our conversation that day.  Angel told me she was planning a different type of trip for June of that year and I was reminded that one of the other couples I had been connected to (they had adopted two Deaf children, a few years before,  from the Deaf Mission where Angel's team had been) was traveling to Liberia in June, as well.  As God would have it, they (Angel and this couple) were able to meet while in Liberia.  I also told Angel I would love to join their next team trip to Liberia in 2010.  And my focus was the Deaf children.  She was excited to hear this as no one on their trip in March had been able to communicate with the Deaf children.  

The Deaf children and two of their Deaf teachers!  (June 2012)


The rest is history!  

In May of 2010 Vandora Henderson (Signs for Hope board member) and I joined with Angel and her team to visit and love-on the Deaf orphans.  Last year, I led the team to the Deaf Mission.  There were just three of us; me, my husband Charles, and Vandora.  This year made it the third trip for Vandora and me to reconnect with these precious children.  

I will never forget the first day our van drove up to the Deaf Mission in 2010, though.  We had already visited the Daniel Hoover Children's Village (DHCV) the day before.  DHCV is a boarding school for the hearing children.  When we arrived there the driver honked the horn as we approached.  Masses of children appeared to run along-side our van, all the while waving their arms and grinning from ear-to ear.  However, when the driver honked the horn on this day, no children appeared.  It wasn't until the children "saw" our van that they began to run wildly toward us.  The first Deaf boy to reach inside our van to touch someone, anyone, had eyes that were tear-filled.  I almost lost it!  But, inside I knew it, this was where I was supposed to be!   It doesn't matter the cost it takes to get here!   It doesn't matter the conditions I have to endure to be here!  It doesn't matter how long it will take to accomplish what it is that God wants to do through me here!  This is where I am supposed to be!   Liberia!

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For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29:11-13

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Ephesians 2:10

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Africa! My heart has been there for many years!



My first visit to Africa came in December of 1981, some 30+ years ago, now.  Charles and I were still newly-weds; I was 22 and he was 24.

While Charles was in veterinary school at the University of Tennessee (UT), he became a member of the Christian Veterinary Fellowship (CVF) group.  Through CVF he was introduced to a Southern Baptist veterinarian missionary serving in the country of Bophuthatswana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bophuthatswana), which was one of seven tribal homelands set aside for the Tswana peoples living inside the country of South Africa.  In 1994, these areas were reintegrated into South Africa, following the end of apartheid. 



Veterinary students were encouraged, their last semester, to go outside the boundaries of their campus for a 6-week externship—to experience something they could not experience on their home campus.  Obviously, an externship to South Africa was not something that could be experienced on the UT campus and no one had ever requested an externship for Africa before.  Neither had support, been requested, from the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (FMB; now the IMB, International Mission Board) for a veterinary student.  Previously, medical and dental students had been granted funding by the FMB through a program entitled “The Medical Receptor Program”.  However, this program required 8 weeks instead of the 6 allowed by UT.

In summary, allow me to share with you how God worked all the details out for us to travel to South Africa.  UT granted Charles’ request.  Our taking 2 additional weeks during the Christmas break satisfied the required 8 weeks by the FMB.  Yes, we were away from home Christmas of 1981.  An interview by a FMB member—for both of us—at our local airport in Knoxville, plus a detailed personnel request submitted by the missionary on the field matching Charles’ exact credentials granted us both full-funding for us to travel to South Africa for the two months.  I still, to this day, do not understand how/why the FMB funded me for this trip.  We had already decided I would join Charles whether or not they funded any portion of the trip for him.   We were going!  When they informed us that we both were being fully funded we were elated, to say the least!  And I was granted a 2-month sabbatical for my job in the UT payroll office, as well. 

Living in the home, for two months, with the missionary family was amazing!  They had 4 children; three boys 10, 8, and 2 and a 6-month old baby girl; she was  precious.  Charles worked with the veterinary missionary in the classroom and in the field.  They were training nationals how to care for livestock and caring for the locals animals.  We became involved in their Bible studies and truly became a part of their family while we were there.  We also attended a southern Africa mission meeting/conference, which granted us the privilege of meeting numerous missionaries from many countries.  What an honor this was for us.  I have so many wonderful memories from this trip! 

Charles returned on a medical mission trip to Uganda in 1984, but I was 7 months pregnant with Rachel at the time and we felt it was best I not join him for that trip.  I always felt God would call me back to Africa; it sure took much longer than I expected.  But…His timing is always…PERFECT!



In South Africa, I fell in love with the African’s worship and praise!  To this day, any time I hear African music my heart and my mind go back to those incredible months we spent in South Africa.  I never thought it would take more than 25 years (Liberia 2010) for me to get back to Africa, but when I go now, part of me feels like I am going “home”.    


Coming soon….”Why Liberia?”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

He calls first...then He equips!

I wrote this blog post before I left for Rwanda and Liberia.  I never posted it, but feel I should do so today.  I have just returned from 27-days in Africa, and I need to hear this truth once again!  I pray this encourages you today! 

Three times, in about as many days, friends and family reminded me that God calls first, and then He equips!

I have known this scriptural truth for many years.  Multiple God-stories, from the Bible, are clothed by this truth.  I have quoted it to others and claimed it in prayer, for myself and others, on numerous occasions.  Suddenly, I was doubting what I know to be truth.  My faith was wavering.

This is one of our Enemies' most skilled ploys--to cause us to doubt God's truth--which undermines our ability to act by faith instead of by sight.  If we can see something, if it is visible, tangible...it is not faith.  Faith is believing without seeing; faith is acting as if something is true, but there is no evidence or proof of it.  Knowing, without a doubt, that God will come through and do what He says He will do...period!

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Hebrews  11:1

Doubt is like cancer, it can seep in completely unnoticed and then without warning 'raise it's ugly head'.  Like a free radical--doubt--engulfs everything healthy and thriving in its path.  Everything that you were assured of before has now been cleverly sabotaged by Enemy's stealth.

The writer of Hebrews tells us..."without faith it is impossible to please God."  So, that means, anything you and I  do that does not fully employ faith, does not please our heavenly Father.  I wonder just how many things I do, in a single day, with no hint of faith involved?