Georgia Baptist church reaches deaf in Madagascarcomment (0)
January 23, 2014
It’s like learning to swim by being pushed off the high dive — and Mason Barrett just got shoved. The 33-year-old real estate agent sits wide-eyed in a tiny, crowded living room in Madagascar’s capital city, trying desperately to understand what anyone around him is saying. Hands fly in a flurry of conversation, mostly get-to-know-you type questions: What’s your name? Are you married? Were you born deaf?
That last question might sound strange if this wasn’t one of the thousands of Deaf communities that Barrett has come to serve. He’s part of a team from Warren Baptist Church, Augusta, Ga., that’s traveled more than 9,000 miles for a single purpose: sharing Jesus with the Deaf Malagasy.
Madagascar is home to roughly 110,000 Deaf, less than 1 percent of whom are disciples of Jesus Christ. Most follow a centuries-old tradition of ancestor worship. There may be a “veneer of Christianity,” said representative Matt Spann, a Texas native who leads the International Mission Board’s (IMB) Madagascar team, but “they fear their ancestors more than they fear God.” That’s what Warren Baptist has come to change.
Sending a hearing church to evangelize the Deaf may seem a fool’s errand, especially since Warren has absolutely no experience with Deaf ministry. Roger Henderson, Warren Baptist’s missions pastor, said the decision left many scratching their heads — including the very people he tasked with choosing which unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) the church would embrace.
Cue a young men’s discipleship group Henderson affectionately refers to as the “Ten Angry Men.” They were “angry” because of the lack of Christ-centered leadership they saw in many of today’s Christian men.
Sorting through the more than 3,800 UUPGs identified by the IMB, the men researched and prayed through their top picks, eventually voting on their selection in Madagascar.
“All throughout the Bible, God uses our weaknesses to display His strength — from Moses to David to Paul,” said Vesta Sauter, who leads IMB’s global Deaf work with her husband, Mark. “I think He knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Warren Baptist to bring the gospel to the Deaf of Madagascar.”
God miraculously gave Warren Baptist a man named Phillip Easterling — a pastor and church planter from Asheville, N.C. He’s Warren Baptist’s way of gaining access to Madagascar’s Deaf community — he was born deaf.
Back in the tiny, crowded living room in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Easterling watches as Barrett and the rest of Warren’s team struggle to communicate with their hosts. News about their American guests has spread quickly, and the house was overflowing with more than 20 visitors.
Easterling tries to translate both sides of several conversations. But after 20 minutes, he stands abruptly and leaves Warren’s team members to fend for themselves. He challenged each member of Warren Baptist’s team to tell a Bible story using Malagasy sign.
Henderson believes God will equip Warren Baptist to overcome barriers of sharing the gospel. He said the first trip is just the beginning, a litmus test of sorts. In a week, Warren’s team has managed to learn a surprising amount of Malagasy sign and forge genuine relationships.
It is Warren Baptist and thousands of other Southern Baptist churches across the United States that make this ministry possible through their giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“When you go ... it puts a real, live person to the offering. And that tangible connection is just so gratifying, especially when you’re trying to evangelize a UUPG,” Henderson said.
To learn more about the IMB’s Embrace initiative, visit call2embrace.org.