USA BASIC SDA HISTORY OF MINISTRY FOR THE DEAF

BACKGROUND

The History of Deaf Ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist church covers a span of over 136 years, from some time just before 1881 to the present day. During much of this time, there is little record of any Adventist work for Deaf. However, in the 65+ years from the middle of the 1900’s to today, there is a growing amount of Deaf Ministry to report. We can praise God for this!

The purpose of this history is to show how God has led in this work through people and organizations, whether by the official church organization or through supporting ministries devoted to Deaf work. Some of the early pioneers are now awaiting the Second Coming in their graves. Some of the main leaders have now retired. There are many others who are working hard to see the Three Angel’s Messages also go to the Deaf. Some are paid workers, most are volunteers.

This “Basic History Section” loosely follows a time line from 1881 to the present. It includes some information about each organization and most of the people included in this history. But, there are then several further sections (1) one for “People in Deaf Ministry”; (2) one for ‘Organizations in SDA Deaf History’; (3) A Time-Line with emphasis on the major developments and when they took place; (4) A Picture Section with many pictures of varying degrees of quality. Many details are included in these sections. Obviously, not all those ever involved in Deaf Ministry can be included. We have tried to include most of the key leaders through the years who have primarily lived and worked in North America. Approximate dates are included to give a general idea of where the person or organization comes in the time line. We cannot verify all dates, but they should be looked on as approximate.

Alberta Blake, of the Province of Alberta, Canada, had originally planned to write this history in conjunction with Elder Arthur Griffith, the first ordained pastor of the Deaf in the SDA church. Arthur shared many things with Alberta, but he has passed away and the history just never got written. In 2017, Alberta chose to get her husband, John, to lead out in the writing while she would assist with research and editing.

THE VERY EARLY YEARS IN THE ADVENTIST CHURCH

Two young men in Brazil. Douglas Silva and André Oliveira decided to find out all they could about the deaf Brother Kimbal that Ellen White writes about in the Fourth Volume of her testimonies (4 T. p. 300):

“We were interested in Brother Kimbal, who is a mute and has been a missionary among the mutes. Through his persevering labors quite a little company have accepted the truth. We meet this faithful brother at our yearly camp meetings, surrounded by several of his mute converts. Someone who can hear writes out as much as possible of the discourse, and he sits surrounded by his mute friends, reading and actively preaching it over again to them with his hands. He has freely used his means to advance the missionary work, thus honoring God with his substance.” {4T 300.3}

Douglas and André found that Kimbal had been married with two children. His wife died much too young, but he then made it his life purpose to take the Adventist message to Deaf in five different states. One time he was actually hit by a train, though not killed. They found that Kimbal was buried in the same cemetery in Battle Creek where Ellen and James White are buried. [A longer history is included in the USA People Section]

Jordans at Kimbal’s tombstone

Ellen White actually spoke about a second deaf person as follows:

“A most interesting feature of the meeting was the case of a daughter of Brother and Sister Hill, a mute [deaf] of sixteen years of age. She united with the supplicating one, and prayed by signs; it was a most solemn and impressive sight. Fifteen people were baptized, among them Dr. and Mrs. Hill, and their mute daughter.” Review Sept. 23, 1877

Very little is known about SDA ministry to Deaf in the next 70 years, but the 2002 Adventist Encyclopedia gives a short account as follows:

SDA Deaf History in the Encylopedia

“Although for many years SDA’s had no organized work for the Deaf, there were individuals who devoted their time to giving the SDA message to the Deaf. As early as 1914, Agatha Kroeker of Lincoln, Nebraska, instructed a young deaf woman in the SDA message in exchange for instruction in the use of sign language. Mrs. Kroeker then proceeded to carry on active evangelistic work for the Deaf, and even published a small missionary paper, The Best Friend of the Deaf. In one year she collected more than 4,000 names of deaf persons in the United States.

The Encyclopedia article adds another quick fact: “In 1949 E. H. Adams, an SDA minister, and his wife became burdened for deaf people and began work among them in the Oakland, California, area.” It is understood that their own daughter was Deaf.

SDA Encylopedia article in 1976

THE WORK AND INFLUENCE OF JOHN ISSLER

John & Evelyn Issler

John Issler was a Canadian whom the Lord had given a real burden for the Deaf. Issler received his B.Th. from Canadian Union College. But, there were no pastoral opening for deaf work, so he decided to canvass the Deaf. In the late 1940’s, Issler worked his way across Canada (probably starting in Ontario), from East to West, earning his own funds to live on. After he finished his work in BC., he headed south into the USA – probably canvassing as he went. Issler settled in California.

In 1948 Issler wrote a letter to the General Conference telling of his burden for Deaf people in the North American Division. He made a proposal for developing work for the Deaf. Two years later, in 1950, a committee was formed to make recommendations to the church about Issler’s earlier proposal. However, he was told that the GC was not ready to open a special department for deaf work.

But, Issler did not give up, and from 1951-1953 he continued to canvas the Deaf in the Los Angeles area collecting 7,000 names of deaf people.

In 1953, the North American Division Union Presidents made the following recommendation:

We recommend, That a survey be made in each local conference to secure names and addresses of deaf people, and that plans be laid in the conference to send them literature of the message.” (North American Division Committee on Administration, Minutes, April 13, 1953, pp. 53, 54).

Result: the next year, Deaf Ministry was assigned to the ‘Home Foreign Committee”.

The General Conference also made a recommendation in 1954:

“That efforts be made to develop workers to preach the present truth in the sign language to the deaf-mutes, and that in North America the Home Foreign Committee be encouraged to study this problem with interested union conferences.” (General Conference Reports, vol. 131, no. 29, p. 224).

By 1958 the needs of the Deaf were presented to the General Conference Session and two main recommendations resulted:

1. That the General Conference Committee study ways
and means to strengthen the work on behalf of persons thus
afflicted and to encourage the training of workers in the use of the sign language.

2. That the responsibility of fostering our work among the Deaf . . . be assigned to one of the departments of the General Conference as may be determined by the General Conference Committee.

That same year, 1958, John Issler continued his determination to work with Deaf, and combined with Arthur Griffith in starting a monthly newsletter for SDA Deaf called DAWN [Deaf Adventist Witness News]. This new paper proved very useful in helping tie together the growing work for Deaf on the West Coast. Griffith remained editor of this paper for 17 years – until 1975. As far as we know, this was the first continuous Adventist publication for Deaf.

In 1958, Clarence N. Kohler, an SDA minister, was called to work for the Deaf in the Central and Northern California conferences, especially in the Bay area. However, for some reason it did not last, and in 1960 Kohler returned to work for Hearing. Later, in 1961, Rex Rolls, a colporteur from Nevada, was invited by the Southern California Conference to take Kohler’s place. Apparently he continued his canvassing, but with the added responsibility of working with Deaf from 1961 until he remarried [His first wife Ruth had died] and Rex and his new wife, Nona, moved to the Portland area in about 1978. From then until his death, Rex and his wife worked with the Deaf, Much of this work was with the Stone Tower church in Portland. He was also instrumental in helping and organizing the Oregon Conference Camp Meeting for the Deaf at Milo Academy [SE of Roseberg, OR]. The first one was held in 1977 with the 40th Anniversary camp also being held in 2017 at Milo Academy.

It appears that for a time John Issler was employed by the Southern California Conference to work for the Deaf. However, he had to drop the work in 1960 because of ill health. But fortunately, the South California Conference hired Neil Davidson with his wife, Lillian, both Deaf, to take Issler’s place in ministry to Deaf. It appears that this was the first time in the history of the church that a deaf person had ever been hired to pastor their fellow Deaf!

That same year, 1960, the North American Missions Committee was given the responsibility of the work for the Deaf work in the NAD.

THE WORK AND MINISTRY OF ARTHUR & ALFRED GRIFFITH

[NOTE: Since Arthur grew up from the age of 2 – 20 in Canada, we have mostly included that part of his life – in the Canadian Section]

Art Griffith

Arthur Griffith, with his parents and family, moved up from the USA to Canada. Griffith was born hearing, but at the age of 7, completely lost his hearing through a serious case of meningitis. Later, his family moved back to the USA settling in the greater Portland area. As he grew older, Arthur trained as a machinist and had not only good skills in the trade, but a very inventive mind. He and his brother John went into business together. Arthur married Alyce, also deaf, and started a family. Things were going well. They worked on building their own home. Children graced their home, but though all three boys were hearing, both their daughters were Deaf.

One day in 1956, their deaf daughter, Linda, was pushing her bicycle across the road by their gate, and was hit by a car and killed. This terribly upset Arthur. He began to think through his life and what was most important. Eternal things became more important to him. Gradually he became more and more involved in lay ministry with his fellow Deaf. Arthur gave Bible studies and led out on Sabbaths with a deaf group in the Portland area.

Griffith’s growing work came to the attention of the Oregon Conference. He was called by the Conference to work part time with the Deaf. Soon, in July 1961, Griffith was taken on as a full time licensed minister for the Deaf. Later in 1969, Griffith was ordained as the first deaf SDA pastor for the Deaf in the history of the SDA church.

In 1968, the year before his ordination, Griffith was asked to go to Washington, DC, and conduct a series of evangelistic meetings for the Deaf near Gallaudet College – the world’s main liberal arts University for the Deaf. A strong interest was created amongst some of the students. Before too long, a number were baptized. Some became leaders in Deaf Ministry such as David and Francisca Trexler and Jim Hovey.

By this time Griffith’s oldest son, Alfred, had graduated from Walla Walla College. In 1968, Alfred received a call from the Potomac Conference to come and work full time for the students that his father had been working for. By 1971, the group grew to 20 students.

One of the major life goals of Arthur Griffith was his vision for expanding deaf work. He also wanted to utilize the best current media equipment for that purpose. Video was not yet common, but 16mm movies were still being used. Arthur pushed and pulled everywhere he could through church levels to create a series of 16mm movie Bible Studies. By 1970 his dream was coming true with Gus Codero asking questions and son Alfred providing voice interpreting. Arthur’s personal memoirs explain that the production costs were significant – about $17,000 then – which might be $100,000 today (?). Apparently the Union Conferences helped in paying this expense. The Deaf now had a signed series of Bible Studies that they and others could use with Deaf. Though precious for the Deaf, the sets were very expensive and 16mm films and projectors could be a challenge to run and maintain for the average person.

In the mean time, a complication came up that most have never known about. Pastor Alfred Griffith was working with the Deaf in Washington, DC. However, before being ordained, his conference felt that he should get experience in also working with the Hearing. Feeling his first divine calling was to work for the Deaf and not leave his little deaf group, Alfred had to make a difficult decision. He decided to stay with his deaf group even if he could no longer be employed as ‘their official pastor’. So, Alfred began to support himself through his own work, while he continued to minister part time to the Deaf in the greater Washington, DC area.

In 1975, Alfred’s father, Arthur, received a call from the Potomac Conference to come and carry on the work that both he and Alfred had developed around Gallaudet University.

For a time Alfred was separated from full time deaf work – though his heart was still in Deaf Ministry. But, God was watching and behind the scenes guiding. In 1979, the Northern California Conference called Alfred to pastor the Deaf in the Bay area. Alfred was ordained the next year – in January 1980. Alfred also expanded his ministry to various areas in northern California where he continued to minister faithfully until his official retirement in 2012. After retirement, it was not long before Alfred and wife Cheryl moved up to an area just north of Vancouver, WA. Alfred continued to be active helping not only in the Portland area but making trips up to help in the Seattle area. Until recently, Alfred has been constantly involved as a special speaker at various camp meetings being held around the USA. Unfortunately, his wife Cheryl’s serious problem with Parkinson’s disease has put some restrictions on his travels.

THE CHRISTIAN RECORD BECOMES A GENERAL CONFERENCE CENTER FOR DEAF MINISTRY

In 1980 the General Conference called Thompson Kay to develop a Department for Deaf at the Christian Record [CRS]. Kay had been a teacher of the Deaf at Ohio State School for the Deaf and was then teaching at Alcy Junior Academy in Memphis, Tenn.

Now Kay, was to help the Christian Record develop a work for the Deaf – a group very different from the Blind that CRS had concentrated on for about 80 years. To begin, Kay was alone in his new department, except for his capable full time secretary, Alice-Jean Nelson.

The Deaf department worked on many projects:

(1) Developing and producing an Easy Reading Edition of the SDA Sabbath School Quarterly

(2) Producing and printing an Easy Reading Edition of both Steps to Christ and the Story of Redemption

(3) Doing a series of three children’s coloring books teaching – through signs – about Jesus, Moses and Creation

(4) Simplifying the Amazing Facts Tracts and doing an Easy Reading Edition for Deaf.

(5) Publishing a helpful book for Deaf Ministry: “Working Together, Deaf & Hearing”.

Kay’s Book at CRS

For a short time CRS added another member to the team with Max Gallimore who in 1987 came as editor for “Deaf-Light”, a missionary type easy reading magazine for Deaf. He also edited the “New Dawn” CRS newsletter for the SDA Deaf in North America.

When the Christian Deaf Center in Arkansas closed in 1986, Don Griffith also joined Kay at CRS. Don had a special interest in the video department and worked to build this capacity at CRS. After six years, Don resigned, feeling that really a deaf person should hold his position in the department. In about 1992, David Trexler (deaf) came and provided excellent help for the next 6 years. Trexler became editor of the CRS missionary magazine, Deaf-Light (formerly called ”In This Sign”) and the CRS newsletter “New Dawn”.

Both Kay and Trexler traveled to camp meetings and churches to help strengthen and guide the work for the Deaf.

Gradually it became obvious that the work for the Deaf did not really fit in with the work for the Blind. The sympathy of the public was easily felt toward work for Blind – everyone can quickly get some idea of what it would be like to be blind. But, with deafness – few understand. Almost none have ever experienced deafness. So, funds came so much easier for blind work than deaf work. It seemed that the budget for the department for deaf was never enough to meet the needs. The General Conference decided to make a thorough study of both blind work and deaf work at CRS. In January, 1996, a special committee was set up with Dr. Calvin Rock as Chair. Members included Dr. Larry Evans and 6 others.

The committee came up with many recommendations for both the blind ministry and the deaf ministry. The most important one for the Deaf was that the CRS Department for Deaf should close and be taken on by the North American Division.

By December 1996, Trexler sent out a very carefully worded letter that let the NAD deaf world know that CRS would be closing the department. The GC pled for a little more time for an orderly transition, but by the end of 1997 the department was to close and employment for both

Kay and Trexler was to end. Kay had given about 17 years to the department, and Trexler had given up a good teaching job to join CRS for 6 years. Now both would have to look for other employment.

On October 9 of 1997, Elder Larry Pitcher, then Director of Christian Record, attended the NAD year-end meetings. A decision was voted at those meetings that included a new direction that the NAD wanted to see Deaf Ministry go. Pitcher wrote an article for the Nov.-Dec. 1997 CRS “New Dawn” newsletter and included these thoughts from the NAD decision:

(1) That Deaf Ministry change from an institutional model to a ‘field-based model’

(2) That the NAD would continue to support deaf ministry with the amount that the NAD had been giving: $55,000 to $60,000 per year . [The NAD had spent more than $750,000 on Deaf Ministry since CRS had added a Deaf Ministry department]

(3) NAD local Conferences could apply for a maximum of from $7,000 – $10,000 for grass roots church-based and people-based deaf ministry projects – (rather than office based model projects).

(4) CRS would close the Deaf Department as of Nov. 8 (or 6?), 1997

Pitcher made it clear that the department was closing because CRS had a debt of $ 270,000 and that if they had the funds, the deaf department would continue. However, the department had to close because CRS could not afford to continue with deaf work.

A Nov. 24/97 meeting, in Maryland, was called by Elder Vasquez to discuss the future of NAD deaf ministry. A committee was set up to prepare a proposal to be presented to the NAD – including the Union Presidents. However, the proposal for a special department or agency for the deaf at the NAD level, was turned down.

The idea then developed of starting an independent, but supporting organization to carry on leadership and production of materials for the Deaf. An interim board was set up to plan and organize this newly proposed organization. In the mean time, after being dropped, Kay was determined to continue deaf work and for some time did what he could without salary from his own home.

It was eventually decided that official SDA church controlled deaf work would be fostered by a new NAD “Deaf Ministry Committee”. That committee would take requests for specific local projects. Funding would be given to help in local situations. Various NAD leaders chaired this committee. The first was Elder Manuel Vasquez. (He was also on the ADM board from its beginning in 1999 to 2004.)

Debra Brill, Director of the North American Missions, later became the chair of the NAD Deaf Committee. This committee had a fairly limited mandate to concentrate on – how the NAD Deaf funding should be spent. However, it has held a very helpful place in helping maintain an official level of Deaf work in the North American Division. The deaf project funding routed through the decisions from this committee has been a great help to the independent “Adventist Deaf Ministries” which arose after CRS closed its Deaf department.

THE BEGINNING OF AN INDEPENDENT MINISTRY

The online deaf leaders meetings worked toward the formation of a supporting, but independent ministry to be called, “Adventist Deaf Ministries” – ADM [ later re-named, Three Angel’s Deaf Ministries – 3ADM ]. To complete this dream, the SDA Deaf in NAD started an Interim Board to work on starting this independent, but supporting organization for the Deaf. This Interim Board ended in 1999 as the new legal ADM permanent board was established. Elder Manuel Vasquez, was a member of this new board. ADM would be supported by donations and try and continue a work somewhat similar to what had been done at the CRS Deaf Department.

In 1999, Thompson Kay began as the Director of ADM. Soon Trexler joined with Kay. However, it was not too long before a call came for David Trexler to join the Potomac Conference. In 2,000 Trexler left ADM to become pastor for the deaf congregation at Silver Springs, MD.

The building on the right was built by the local church for use by ADM

Within the ADM constituency it gradually became apparent that there was a growing feeling amongst many Deaf that it was time to have a deaf person as leader of ADM. In 2001, Thompson Kay decided that it would be best if he resigned. He turned his attention to an organization that he and his wife set up in Lincoln called “TEAMS”. Kay would work some with Deaf and others
with reading or other learning challenges. This Kay did successfully and at time of writing he is settling into retirement.

That same year, 2001, it was voted on the ADM board to ask a deaf man – of vast experience, Jim Hovey, to head the new organization. Jim had no desire to move to Lincoln, so the office was moved to the Phoenix area in Arizona. For 3 years & 8 months ADM was run from Hovey’s home. In 2005 ADM moved into a lovely building – built for that purpose. by the Apache Junction church next to Phoenix.

Jim was a strong and very capable administrator. He worked hard to continue the work, traveling and inspiring across the nation as he could. But, Jim probably worked too hard and began to run into major health concerns. In 2007 Hovey resigned. For several months Elder George Belser worked as “Interim Director” while the board searched for a new Director.

The ADM board then approached Elder David Trexler to take the lead. After much prayer and thought, later in 2007, David and Francisca decided to accept. The office in Arizona was moved to Maryland and into Trexler’s home. In 2018 David Trexler continues as Director and is doing an excellent work.

One of the main ADM activities has been having display booths at the largest conventions of public deaf gatherings in the USA. From coast to coast they have been attending many of these.

They have been making many new friends, and giving out hundreds of packets of SDA materials. A new sharing DVD is prepared each year to be given out at the booths! They have also had success in reaching out to non-SDA Deaf through the www.deafbibleschool.com web site. This site features the God’s Way and Amazing Facts Easy Reading lessons that Deaf can do online from their homes! A number of Deaf are being baptized! Bible studies are even being signed ‘live’ person to person over the internet. Francisca Trexler has been in charge of the correspondence school.

Name Change: The General Conference, as part of its continuing effort to protect the SDA name, asked “Adventist Deaf Ministries” to sign a special copyright agreement. Most of the agreement was not a problem, but there was something which ADM did not feel comfortable in signing. So, the official name changed from “Adventist Deaf Ministries” [ADM] to “Three Angel’s Deaf Ministries” [3ADM] (no relation to Three Angel’s Broadcasting!)

SDA PASTORAL MINISTRY FOR THE DEAF IN THE USA

There has been, and continues to be a real challenge in providing adequate pastoral care for SDA Deaf in North America. If all SDA Deaf in the USA lived in one city, the problem would be simple to solve. There would be enough Deaf in one place to qualify for a full time pastor. But, our SDA Deaf are scattered around the whole nation. Back in 1958, it appears that Elder Clarence Kohler was the first paid SDA pastor for the Deaf in the world field. In the 60 years from 1958 to 2018, the total number of pastors in NAD has varied greatly, from 1 to 3 or 4 at the same time.

The pastoral list has included:

Elder Clarence Kohler – CA, Neil Davidson – CA, John Issler- CA, Elder Rex Rolls (CA & OR), Raj Witteborg (Wash., DC)- Elder Arthur Griffith- OR &
Wash., DC; Elder Alfred Griffith -(Wash, DC & CA), Ben Griffith (Wash. DC) Elder Paul Kelly (WA & NY); Elder David Trexler (Wash., DC) and finally
Elder Jeff Jordan (GA & Tenn.) Elder Belser has also pastored some on a stipend, and though now fully retired, still contributes strong help in the
Portland area. Four of these pastors have now passed away, but only one is now employed by the church, Pastor Jeff Jordan. Elder David Trexler continues full time, but in the employ of 3ADM. Both Elder Paul Kelly and Elder Alfred Griffith provide help as they are able. To support himself, Elder Kelly is teaching full time in a high school for Deaf. Griffith is officially ‘retired’.

Rear- L to R- John Blake, Alfred Griffith, David Trexler, Ben Griffith. Front- L to R- Rex Rolls, Clarence Kohler, Art Griffith, George Belser. These 8 were at the Utah camp meeting in the 1970’s. All have worked at some point in ministry with Deaf in North America through the years!

There have been repeated attempts to get a full time pastor for the Deaf in the Oregon area, but so far, it has not worked. We are so thankful for the excellent efforts of Chuck McGehee to foster and grow the work in Oregon – especially in the Portland area. Chuck has also been working to support himself.

There are about 30 small SDA deaf groups scattered around many areas of the USA. You can look up where the groups are located by going to the ‘Church’ menu on the 3ADM web site or clicking on https://www.3adm.org/church.php There are 9 listed for California. Unfortunately 19 states are not listed with any local deaf groups. That does not mean there are no SDA Deaf, but probably these 19 States have no location where there is a regular SDA interpreter. Some of the 30 locations have their own web site address.

Beside the group in Portland, there are two programs that stand out as examples of what can be done:

(A) The South New England Conference deaf group with Jessica Smith-McGowan as Coordinator, has many different things going: sign language classes in various locations, a high Sabbath once a month where they all attend as best they can even though they come from several states and many locations. They also have special camping/retreat weekends with guest presenters. If you are on their mailing list, you constantly receive detailed listings of all the many activities. It takes a lot of work and coordination. But, our SDA Deaf are receiving blessings even without their own official ‘pastor’. A significant number of non-SDA Deaf join with them in various activities. Jessica McGowan is recognized by their Conference as the official Conference Deaf Ministry Coordinator.

A South New England 2018 Sabbath get together as organized by Jessica McGowan (extreme Right)

There are other areas that have an excellent program with a ‘High Sabbath’ once a month, but as an illustration of what can be done – without a deaf pastor – we listed the Southern New England Conference program! So many SDA Deaf live where either they are alone as ‘Deaf SDA’s, or in a tiny group of 2-5 members. Getting together once a month to fellowship with a large group is worth even a long distance drive – as is so often the case.

(B) The other outstanding organizational example is the Southern Deaf Fellowship with their own web site: www.deafchurchonline.org. Here the organized SDA church has set a pattern that we wish could be followed in many other areas. Pastor Jeff Jordan has a home church at the McDonald Road Church, close to Southern Adventist University. They have many aspects to their total program:

A full time Pastor- Elder Jeff Jordan. However, Jordan serves not only his local church, but is also allowed to provide a measure of pastoral care for all SDA Deaf in the Southern Union Conference of SDA.

-Members living anywhere in the Southern Union may officially turn in their tithe to Jordan’s home church

-Jordan has a high Sabbath once a month where Deaf come in from several states and have a day of fellowship and worship together.

-Virtually all the services are also released each Sabbath at 11:30 AM Eastern time over their website on the internet. Anyone anywhere in the world – with a good internet connection – may ‘tune in’ and if they know American Sign Language, can enjoy the “live” church service. When Jordan is away, another presenter usually takes his place. Services are not only signed, but voice interpreted for Hearing who may also be watching.

-Each summer they have a special Southern Deaf Camp Meeting at the Cohutta Springs SDA Conference Center at Crandall, GA. This has
become the largest SDA Deaf yearly assembly in the USA. They have not only spiritual services, but fun times on the surrounding lake, and other places.

Southern Deaf Fellowship Camp Meeting is not all sermons, but outdoor fun, too!

This program in the Southern Union is an excellent example of what the official SDA church can do to encourage ministry with Deaf! This program combines the efforts of an official pastor with lay people from a broad area, and God is blessing!

THE CHRISTIAN DEAF CENTER

The main school-administration building built at the Christian Deaf Center in Arkansas in 1986

( We go back a few years in time and give information about a parallel organization- The Christian Deaf Center – as eventually it was called)

Back in the 1970’s there were some who wanted to get away from the cities and live close to nature. One of these was a deaf man, Tom Fromm. He moved from California to Arkansas.

Tom also had a dream. He wanted to set up some type of a training center for deaf people who could learn to trust the Lord, grow spiritually, and be able to be a spiritual blessing to other Deaf when they returned to their home church. After considerable searching, Tom found a tract of 260 acres near Alpena in northern Arkansas. This could serve as the location for this type of a training center. In July 1978 the land was purchased in the name of the non-profit organization that Tom set up.

Joining Tom Fromm was a retired pastor who had through the years worked with many Deaf, Elder Clarence Kohler. Elder Arthur Griffith’s son, Don, was an excellent signer and decided to join in 1979. His father, Elder Arthur Griffith joined in 1980. Another interested couple with some farming experience, the Metzgers, also joined in the project.

Unfortunately, before the center really got thoroughly started, Don’s wife, Kathy, and Tom Fromm were both killed in a terrible car accident in March of 1980. It was not long before Don remarried – to Mona Shields. Don needed a wife and also a mother for his two boys.

In 1982, John and Alberta Blake, from McBride, British Columbia, Canada, made a trip to visit the center. They were getting involved in producing simple signed videos for the Deaf. They came to get material on video at the deaf center – material that was original signing, not interpreted. They brought their two deaf children, Judy and David along with them. Before their scheduled return, the center made a formal request for Blakes to move to the center and Pastor Blake to become Director.

Blake’s ultimately decided to accept the call and they were miraculously able to get their deaf foster son adopted in record time. They arrived in late September the same year, 1982.

Mrs. Alberta Blake led out in teaching the children. John helped with teaching, video, and began as Director. However, later during a health issue, John resigned as Director, but continued as Chaplain and as a teacher.

The school made a fundamental decision to try and work fairly closely with the organized church. John and Don gave a special presentation to the
South-West Union Committee. Thompson Kay, Director of Deaf Ministry at Christian Record, joined as a member of their CDC board. The Conference Educational Director, Don Hevener, was invited to inspect their younger student program and include these students in the Conference educational picture. The center worked closely with their nearest church and their pastor at Harrison, Arkansas.

The main students who came to the school were deaf young people. The purpose was to train them as laymen/laywomen for blessing the local churches where they would go when they left the center. Courses were taught in such subjects as Health, Family life, computer, SDA church history, etc. Elder’s Kohler, Griffith and Blake, along with Don Griffith, led out in the teaching program.

After three years, in 1985, Blake’s decided to move to Alberta, Canada, where they would attempt to start a work for the Deaf in that Province. Pastor and Mrs. David Trexler were invited to take Blake’s place as Chaplain and teacher.

Unfortunately, the next year, 1986, the financial challenges of the center became too difficult, and their board voted to close what had become known as, “The Christian Deaf Center”. The net balance of the funding from the property (somewhere around the $80,000 mark), was given to the Christian Record for use by the Deaf Ministry Department. Thus ended a noble attempt at starting a Lay Training Center for the Deaf!

ATTEMPTS AT STARTING AN SDA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF

**[There were four attempts to start an SDA Deaf School. In the Canadian Section, we record how Blake’s tried to start one at Hope, BC, but had to drop it. We now cover the other three USA attempts]

(1) Mrs. Irene (Gordon) Frase, a pastor’s wife, started a very small school class in Provo, Utah, called Adventist Institute for the Deaf. It operated with the help of the Provo, Utah, SDA church.. Elder and Mrs. Frase had a deaf son, Lester, and Mrs. Irene Frase had been certified by the State of Utah as a teacher of Hearing Handicapped children. However, the school closed.

(2) Starting on Oct. 18, 1982, Mrs. Laurene (Max) Gallimore – with others – began a small school for the Deaf in Oregon. They rented an unused public school building for $750 per year. Initially they taught four regular students and two pre-schoolers. The courses they used were from the SDA Home Study institute. Deaf members in the Dallas and Stone Tower churches did much to help start the school. Donations for supplies came from around North America. Various deaf members helped with teaching and assisting. Unfortunately it did not last.

(3) In 1987 Mrs. Gallimore again tried to start a school, this time in Lincoln at the Helen Hyatt Elementary school. The SDA North American Missions put in $3,000 and the CRS Deaf Services department another $5,000. This was while Thompson Kay was Deaf Director at the Christian Record and giving strong support to this new attempt to start an elementary school. However, that class also closed.

Mrs. Lorraine Gallimore with students as one of two of her attempts to provide a school for SDA deaf children

NAD DEAF MINISTRY IN RECENT TIMES

We have attempted to follow an approximate time line of the development of Deaf Ministry in the USA and in the other Canadian section, within Canada. This now brings us to the time of Dr. Larry Evans.

Evans first main involvement with SDA Deaf was in Oregon. He had been asked to work with a number of special ministries such as Native American, Deaf, etc. This was a great learning experience for him, but soon other administrative duties called him away.

However, one of those duties was as President of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference. It was here that Pastor Jeff Jordan (deaf) was working hard in the greater Atlanta area. Evans saw that a little special help was given when Blake’s came down and recorded a ‘live’ evangelistic series in Marietta, GA with Jordans.

Evans served for about seven years as ‘Under-Secretary’ of the General Conference ending at the 2010 GC session. During this time, though extremely busy, Evans started a committee for deaf work and tried to give this area some attention!

After his duties ended in Secretarial administration, Evans was given the position of Associate Director of Stewardship. Still feeling the need to help deaf work, Evans asked if he might also be given responsibility for deaf work. The title “Liaison for Deaf Ministry” was chosen. Evans was able to carefully combine some of his trips for both Stewardship and Deaf ministry, and things really started to happen. Evans was also getting an on-the-job training for even greater responsibilities.

As Evans looked over the needs of the church, Evans saw that not only were Deaf being largely neglected, but many other special need groups also needed help: Blind, those with physical and mental handicaps, Orphans, Deaf and even the ‘care-givers’ who were helping so much with some of these groups. He presented a plan to the GC President, Ted Wilson. Wilson liked the plan, and a special “Office of Special Needs” was begun. Dr. Evans was to be directly responsible to the GC President. Evans was also put on about 10 major committees to help make sure that each of these “Special Needs” groups were being included in the overall planning of the church.

The first General Conference level Special Needs Advisory- Esther Doss interpreting for David Trexler of 3ADM & Jeff Jordan of the Southern Union Conference

Much of Evans work has been with what are called “Special Needs Advisories” . These are special training times when “Special Needs Directors” come together to learn and plan together. It started in Feb. 2016 on the GC level with the Division Special Needs Directors coming to the GC offices for an ‘Advisory’. Now Evans is working on the Division Level with ‘Advisories”. The Divisions are explaining the needs and challenges to the Union “Special Needs” Directors. With 13 Divisions to cover, it takes time and much traveling as the Advisories are not the only duties Dr. Evans is involved with.

THERE ARE SOME VERY SIGNIFICANT THINGS HAPPENING IN THE SDA DEAF WORLD:

(1) The inclusion of the Deaf as a major part of the “Special Needs” GC emphasis. The Deaf are represented on the main over-all “Special Needs” committee.

(2) The Deaf have a special sub-committee just for deaf work that meets online with Deaf and leaders of the Deaf from around the world

(3) A new General Conference level web site for the Deaf, www.adventistdeaf.org, with a deaf person (with an engineering degree), Amanda Colgan, as site builder and every day manager

(4) A new HOPE.TV channel just for Deaf. [www.hopechanneldeaf.org] It is a 24/7 ‘On Demand’ channel on the internet. It includes captioned and/or signed video materials in excellent quality in five major languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German.

(5) Elder Jeff Jordan has been officially named the General Conference “Honorary Associate Director for Deaf Ministry”. His conference has agreed to allow him one month per year – on Conference pay – outside of his district – while carrying out duties in this new special position.

(6) As Dr. Evans visits in church offices and with ‘Advisories’ all over the world, he is constantly drawing attention to the special needs of the Deaf. At times he will have Jeff Jordan with him as took place in India in March, 2017 and in Kenya in August 2018. These meetings are highlighting the needs of Deaf in ways that earlier we hardly dared dream about. It is wonderful to see “Special Needs” directors getting excited about the many possibilities of meeting so many different types of needs – including the Deaf!

CAMP MEETINGS AND WEEKEND RETREATS FOR THE DEAF

One of the highlights of North American Deaf work are the Camp Meetings and Retreats held for SDA Deaf around the USA, and for a time – even up into Canada.

There were a number of beginning camp meetings. From 1969 to 1971, Tom Fromm, who had a gold mining claim out in the woods in Northern, CA, worked with the idea of a camp meeting for Deaf out in nature. In order to maintain an active claim, Tom had to report some work being done on the claim. He combined some volunteer short work periods with a camp meeting out in the woods. Fortunately, the idea of a “Camp Meeting for Deaf” has grown and been a great blessing to many!

About 1974, Pastor John Issler had a small camp at Mendocino Lake in Northern California. He combined spiritual meetings with fun times which included water skiing with the motor boat he brought for all to use.

MILO OREGON CAMP MEETING:

2017 marked the 40th anniversary of the first Milo Camp Meeting for the Deaf in 1977. This camp is held at the lovely rural campus of the Milo Oregon Conference Academy. Milo Academy is about 50 miles SE of Roseberg, OR. For a few of the 40 years the camp was held in California instead. However, being somewhat central, and such an excellent location, the Milo location has now become the regular location. The 2017 – 40th Anniversary had an extra large attendance with Deaf coming from many parts of the USA!

Milo, OR deaf camp meetings started 40 years ago in 1977. Others are not being held in many places world-wide

The girls dorm is made available for ladies and families with the boys dorm for single men. The morning program includes several meetings. In the afternoon there is often one meeting along with some outdoor recreational activity. In the evening there is another main meeting. One night there is usually a report presented from Three Angel’s Deaf Ministries. The main meetings have usually been held in the worship room of the Girl’s dorm.

The regular custom is that on Sabbath afternoon, after a wonderful meal in the cafeteria, the whole group goes down the dusty road beside the river to a special location suitable for a baptism. There is often a musical number signed at the baptismal location by the river.

In the afternoons, during the week, there are a number of different activities. One can perhaps attend a special seminar on family life with Francisca Trexler, or go rafting on the Rogue river. One of the special delights of this location is the ‘Covered Bridge’ over the river at the northern entrance to the campus. Most afternoons, some of the campers go swimming in the river. Just below the bridge is a deeper area where people can dive off the high rocky ledge. Or, they can swing out over the river on a large rope and drop down into the river. [see the picture]

Milo Camp Meeting rope swinging under the covered bridge on a sunny afternoon

SOUTHERN UNION CAMP MEETING FOR THE DEAF AT COHUTTA SPRINGS, GA

Each summer in the Southern Union Conference there is a special Southern Deaf Camp Meeting at the Cohutta Springs SDA Conference Center at Crandall, GA. This has become the largest SDA Deaf yearly assembly in the USA.

There is a major effort to make the camp a family camp. There are spiritual meetings as well as fun times on the lake surrounding the camp. This may include boating, etc.

There is always a baptism of Deaf. People may come from as far away as Toronto, Canada! One year Nigel and Ruby Persaud, from Ontario, Canada, came and their older son was baptized in the lake. This camp was very special for the Persaud family for much of the time there has been no regular deaf group meeting each Sabbath anywhere in Ontario, Canada.

EASTERN USA SPECIAL WEEKEND CAMPS/RETREATS FOR THE DEAF

THE SOUTH NEW ENGLAND CONFERENCE RETREATS

The South New England Conference deaf group, with Jessica McGowan-Smith as Coordinator, each year has a retreat weekend for the Deaf in the NE corner of the USA. They also have a monthly high Sabbath when deaf members come in to one central location for a special Sabbath day together!

[NOTE: THE 17 YEARS OF CANADIAN MINI-CAMP MEETING FOR THE DEAF AT HOPE, BC., IS INCLUDED IN THE CANADIAN HISTORICAL SECTION]

CONCLUSIONS

There are so many things that could be brought into a history of SDA Deaf work in North America. But, there are some general impressions that the authors are left with as
they conclude this history.

(1) God has been in charge of His work.

Yes, we feel that so often the church has failed to adequately recognize the needs of the Deaf and provide the needed help. But, God has still been working, guiding and blessing in many ways.

(2) We can be thankful that the Adventist church has made many attempts to help reach the Deaf. We can thank God and the church for this. We can praise God for the new “Office of Special Needs” with Dr. Evans which is directly under the GC President, Ted Wilson. This is giving a new world emphasis for including Deaf, the Blind, Orphans and those with other disabilities – in the work and planning of the world church.

(3) Individual Initiatives: What seems to come out clearly is that the work has generally been very dependent on individuals, both pastoral and lay members, who have seen the need. These individuals have then tried in many ways to bless the work with their efforts. Some have worked for many years, others have come and gone. We are so thankful for those individuals who have had a deep burden for Deaf Ministry, and much has been accomplished. The great problem is that when these individuals retire, or grow too old, the work they built up often suffers. Too often their ministry has been largely dependent on a single person or one couple! This is why it is so important that the ‘organized church’ be the backbone of Deaf Ministry. The church needs to be constantly seeking to provide the training, the nurture and the tools for growth that are needed in ministry to Deaf!

(4) “Come of Age”: Deaf Ministry in NAD has in many ways, ‘come of age’, and the Deaf themselves have tried again and again to do what they could to help their own deaf work. Three Angels Deaf Ministry has been a prime example of this important development! It is important that the church not think that “The Hearing” come up with all the ideas for ministry with Deaf. The Deaf themselves need to be involved in the dreaming, the planning and the carrying out of the work for Deaf. Thompson Kay’s book title says it well: “Working Together: Deaf and Hearing

May God bless as Deaf and Hearing work together – with the Holy Spirit’s power – to help take the Three Angel’s Messages to the whole world! In Heaven there will be no deafness, or struggle to understand. Jesus will be our teacher and neither deafness or language barriers will keep us apart! What a wonderful day that will be!

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