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North Shelby Baptist Church makes braille hymnals available to churches, individualscomment (0)

April 2, 2009

By Emily Flack

Our 21st-century technology has done a phenomenal thing with storage space reduction. Take, for example, the newest evolution in music — the MP3 player. The 4-by-2.5-inch device can hold up to 30,000 songs.

So as we invent smaller everythings and bid adieu to oversized anythings, why is it that some Baptist churches will now be purchasing multivolume hymnals, each about 8 inches thick?

It’s all because of David Hyche, a member of North Shelby Baptist Church, Birmingham, and his desire to make Braille Baptist Hymnals for all in need.

It began with blind 7-year-old twin sisters who stirred something within Hyche as he would watch them singing to their heart’s content on Sunday mornings at the Shelby Baptist Association church.

Unfortunately their singing was limited to the songs they had memorized.

“I would sit by them a lot of times in church, and they would flip through a regular hymnal and just feel the pages, but they didn’t know any of the words,” he said.

And his 4-year-old daughter Rachel, who is also blind, will be in this predicament soon — as soon as she learns to read.

So Hyche knew there was only one thing to do: he set out to find a way to get braille hymnals.

“God gave the Hyche family a vision with the gift of Rachel, who had been placed into their lives, and they took it as opportunity to help not only her but other families with visually impaired children,” said Pastor Allan Murphy.

Providing resources for the visually impaired and their families is not a new thing for Hyche. Soon after he and his wife, Kim, adopted Rachel four years ago, he formed a support group called Alabama Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (AAPVI).

Hyche is also on the board of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind in Talladega and North Shelby Baptist’s Vision Impairment (VI) Ministry and takes a braille correspondence class.

But putting together a braille hymnal is a huge undertaking. Thankfully John Hemphill — president and director of Helping Hands Braille Ministries (HHBM), a nonprofit ministry in Michigan that translates Bibles and other Christian literature into braille — was delighted to help.

Each hymn is printed by HHBM and then inserted into a three-ring binder with 100 hymns per binder and an alphabetical index. Hemphill employs blind adults to proofread the hymnals, a dedicated process.

Braille hymnals are massive in comparison to regular hymnals and take six binders to equal a condensed version. Each Sunday, the sighted can pull and distribute the scheduled songs from the binders.

Hyche was already working with Hemphill to make the hymnals when tragedy struck North Shelby — the accidental death of Sam Ferguson, an 8-year-old boy at the church.

Sam’s parents, in agreement with the VI Ministry, decided to use money donated in his memory to fund Christian materials for AAPVI, particularly the making of the Braille Baptist Hymnals. A personal message from them is inscribed in the front of each hymnal.

Dana Barber, who was born sighted but went legally blind at age 24 from retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive genetic eye condition, said she is excited to have the opportunity to read along.

“I can still sing along for the most part,” said Barber, who attends First Baptist Church, Vincent, and acquired a hymnal from North Shelby.

But if the song is something unfamiliar, then she is not able to participate. “I’m looking forward to having music in a format that I can handle.”

And that’s in large part thanks to a man Murphy calls “a precious part of the church.”

“He has helped open up hearts so that no one will be left out,” he said of Hyche. “All special-needs people need to be included. Everyone is precious to God and to us.”

Hyche desires to see the “unbelievably neglected” ministry to the visually impaired built up in all churches to reach the unchurched and those who already attend.

The Braille Baptist Hymnals are now available to churches and individuals, and financial assistance is also available. For more information, call North Shelby at 205-995-9056.

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