How will they hear?
By Christy Mast | Paraguay in South America
Angelina practising LSPY with Franca, a Paraguayan believer who is training to work among the deaf.
Atanacio’s family desperately want to talk with him. They have recently become believers in Jesus and are eager to share the good news with him. But Atanacio is deaf and no one in the rural town of Itangu'a has been able to teach him or his family Paraguayan Sign Language (LSPY).
Angelina is also deaf and lives by herself in Yataity, with no family nearby. She really wants to communicate with her neighbours and has made up a few signs of her own, but it is difficult to understand what she is trying to say.
A 2020 law requires district school teachers to have interpreters so all children have access to learning. But how can the teachers learn LSPY in rural Paraguay? All the schools for the deaf are in far-off in cities.
Knowing that the deaf are one of the least reached people groups, SIM worker Shirley Anne Jacobs attended Moody Bible Institute and studied Linguistics and Theology with the intention of serving as a missionary among the deaf. She spent some time in South America teaching children with special needs and last year joined a SIM team in rural Paraguay, hoping to reach the more than 120,000 deaf people in the country who don’t have access to any language or the gospel. Now from her home in Yaguarete Cora, she travels to villages all over southern Paraguay, searching for deaf children and adults that she can help.
The first student Shirley Anne connected with was a middle-aged man named Cesar, who spent most of his days walking in circles outside the house, completely isolated. Learning was slow and Shirley Anne found that short lessons and colouring activities helped Cesar pick up a few signs. She said, “It is a daunting task to take someone who has no language and give them a language!”
Other students are progressing more quickly. Angelina has been excited to learn the letters of her name – in school she had learned to write, but to her it was just copying designs on paper, with no real understanding of meaning. Now she is an eager student and is motivated to continue learning more signs.
Shirley Anne also has the privilege of educating the local school teachers in LSPY, which benefits not only the deaf but is also helpful for autistic children and those with Down’s Syndrome. These teachers are then able to teach their pupils some basic signs so they might be able to interact with deaf community members in the future.
Shirley Anne uses Bible stories in her lessons - building up language with the goal of sharing the gospel. Atanacio’s family is happy that she has been able to teach him about the Bible and Jesus. His family members even sit down and learn sign language together! Atanacio’s uncle is thankful for Shirley Anne’s work and told her about three other deaf students, suggesting they all meet at the house to learn sign language and hear the gospel message as well.
Relationship building is at the heart of this ministry: meeting one-on-one or in small groups for several hours each week, drinking tea and engaging in small talk with students and their families, seeking to adapt teaching methods for each person, and making new connections in the deaf community to help more who are in need.
Will you join Shirley Anne in praying for the growth of this ministry to the deaf in rural Paraguay?
Pray with us
-That Paraguayan believers would see the need among the deaf and would come to rural areas to serve this population.
-That students would have clear understanding as they are learning difficult concepts with abstract sign words like God, patience, and joy.
-That the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of the deaf students, their families, and neighbours and bring many to faith in Jesus.