Florida Multicultural District's Integrative Approach to Equipping the Deaf Community
In a collaborative and integrative approach to their School of Ministry, the Florida Multicultural District supports and accommodates students from across the globe in a variety of languages and formats including those from the deaf community. As a multicultural district, offering courses for a diverse group of people is nothing new for this School of Ministry. The school works hard to provide courses to English speakers, Spanish speakers, international students, and the deaf and hard of hearing.
Fifteen years ago, Abner Adorno, lead and founding pastor of Viva Church and district superintendent of the Florida Multicultural District, began to have a burden for unreached people groups. Although his mind immediately went to overseas ministry, when Adorno heard that the deaf community was the most unreached and underserved group in churches, he knew that this was the group to which God was calling him.
As he began to explore how to reach this underserved community, he crossed paths with Brenda Flores. At the time, Flores had been serving the deaf community for several years and was working with a specific group who were in search of a church home. When they came to the church, Adorno immediately began to ask Flores how they could make church a better experience for them.
Flores explained that the majority of the time, those who require a sign language interpreter are segregated by this specific ministry instead of integrated in with the hearing body of the church. “We began to explore how to integrate them in the church but also as servants in ministry,” Adorno says. And as they explored, many began to respond to volunteer and ministry opportunities. “We tend to lean towards praying for healing,” says Flores, “but we need to equip people who are deaf to become ministers within their own communities.” Adorno states that they had to start asking themselves how they would prepare their congregants who were deaf for the ministry and the calls they were receiving on their lives from the Lord.
Although the Florida Multicultural District School of Ministry was operating bilingually in English and Spanish, it was not equipped to receive members of the deaf community. “I knew we had to find a way so we asked Pastor Brenda to interpret for the teacher which allowed our hard of hearing friends to be part of the mainstream community,” he says.
The first seven deaf students completed their first year in 2014 and there was immediate growth and interest in the program. Over the past several years, there have been continued developments making it easier for persons who are deaf to become certified and eventually licensed ministers through the Assemblies of God. Pathways are offered which lead all the way through ordination. This year, there are over 40 individuals enrolled who are deaf or hard of hearing. Leading the students as principal of the Equip for Life School of Ministry, the extension of the Florida Multicultural District Theological Institute, is Stephanie Fernandez, one of the five deaf graduates from the original integrated class of 2015. “Our goal was always that a deaf person would take over and now one of our original graduates has taken the ropes and is running with it,” Flores says.
As Flores continued to grow her ministry, she became the lead pastor of Viva Deaf, a church for those who are deaf within the parent church, Viva Church. Despite the church being small in numbers, they are big in heart. “Our church of only around 35 people is doing incredible things, especially by way of missions,” states Flores. Viva Deaf is sending out its first missionary this year, Mike Geckle, who will be helping to translate the Bible into different sign languages. The church, alongside its parent church, Viva Church, is also financially and operationally leading the opening of a deaf school in Africa that will educate and minister to 130 children. “Viva Deaf is constantly going on mission trips, working on projects to get the Bible translated into different sign languages, and is starting into church planting as well,” says Adorno.
“We are so blessed that our district has done whatever we asked to make all of these things happen for our friends in the deaf community,” Flores says. She went on to say that the importance of such ministries is vital. “If we don’t equip them, the world will,” she says, “and it will equip them with wrong or inaccurate teaching.” Although Flores says that the work was hard, the ministry potential that is being unlocked has been worth every minute.