Imagine shuffling down a dark pathway, a canopy of trees blocking out the moonlight. A handrail to your left prevents you from falling into the adjacent abyss, and you continue to shuffle along in pitch blackness.
In those few minutes I experienced blindness. I felt insecure, anxious and then, in an instant, agonising pain. The bush path, which had previously trailed downward to a glow-worm cave—my destination—unexpectedly took a few steps upward. I tripped and fell flat on my face. “Ouch,” I yelled, as I tried to fingerprint-activate my iPhone torch with my index finger. It wouldn’t work: my finger was missing! When I eventually found it, it was sitting across my middle finger, pretty much at right angles, completely dislocated.
The deaf are a “people group” who Christianity—let alone Adventism—has failed to reach.
There are at least half-a-dozen lessons to be learned from my painful experience but I’ll draw attention to only one: it is really hard being blind, living in constant darkness day and night, and when you are, sometimes you need help.
I’m not a naturally empathetic person but a month later, as I daily massage my finger back into action, I am reminded to be mindful of those with a disability.
As caretaker of the Church’s designated agency for the blind and deaf, Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired (CSFBHI), it’s my job to be so. But there are much better reasons: When Christ came to this world, our salvation might have been His primary goal but He also came with a very specific mission of restoration:
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5, NIV).
It’s my great privilege to share in this mission.
The role of CSFBHI is not to be another social welfare provider. Rather, it’s a provider of specific services that will enhance the spiritual life of those with disabilities. Historically it has focused primarily on the blind, providing a mail-order audio library of some 1000 mostly denominational books. These were provided as cassette tapes until recently when the tapes were digitised and transferred to the Vision Australia Library, which cares for their distribution via its on-demand library of some 25,000 titles.
In addition to the library, CSFBHI provides a monthly audio “magazine” on CD, which consists of extracted articles from Signs of the Times and Adventist Record, as well as news, episodes of It Is Written and the month’s lessons from the Sabbath School quarterly. Membership eligibility isn’t confined to the legally blind. For example, a person who is unable to read, perhaps having suffered a stroke and can no longer hold a book, is eligible. In 2014, we funded sight-restoring operations for young people via the “Eyes for India” project.
Beginning next year, we’ll be providing greater accessibility for the blind and deaf to a range of the Church’s media products. This means more of our Adventist Media print content will be available in audio format (for the blind) and video will be closed-captioned (for the deaf).
The deaf are a “people group” who Christianity—let alone Adventism—has failed to reach. In fact, less than 1 per cent of the world’s 300 million deaf attend any Christian church. And thinking about your church, why would they? There’s simply no point; we don’t cater for them—this can be seen in the lack of signing translators.
However, CSFBHI is doing something about this on your behalf. We began earlier this year with significant sponsorship for subtitling the feature episodes of the Beyond video series. And in October, CSFBHI funded professional signing translators for the Church’s first deaf camp, an initiative of the Logan Reserve church (Qld), which has an active ministry to the Deaf. The camp featured Dr Larry Evans, special assistant to the General Conference president, who is tasked with establishing and nurturing special needs ministries in all divisions—building awareness, acceptance and action—and advising congregations as to how better to create more accessible and accepting worship environments and resources for this most neglected group. This ministry focuses on not only the deaf and blind but anyone with special needs: intellectual and physical, individuals or families, as well as orphans. (Click HERE to view Dr Evans’ Record InFocus interview.)
As such, and I’m being blunt, an equitable, representative service will take a lot more money than CSFBHI has right now. It will take huge generosity on your part. An Auslan signing translator, for example, costs $A110 an hour on weekends in NSW (minimum two hours).
CSFBHI is funded by a bi-annual offering—the next is on January 9—so please prepare for that. It is also the recipient of tax-deductible donations and legacies from thankful members and their families, which is something that you might likewise consider.
Finally, if you or someone you know could use the services of CSFBHI, contact us and we’ll do whatever we can to help. Or if you wish to contribute to its ministry, we have constructive, computer-based volunteer opportunities recording books for the blind and subtitling videos for the deaf. Over to you!
Lee Dunstan is manager of Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired, which is located at the Adventist Media Centre, Wahroonga, NSW. For details on CSFBHI services go to <http://www.adventist.org.au/csfbhi-vision-impaired-services>.