As a hearing person, I always associate myself with the majority. Not that I want to. It’s the way things are. There are so many of us and so few of them, the deaf people I mean. Some linguistics and deaf culture analysts compare the deaf community with the indigenous people. Although native people mostly co-habit in a specific area which they have grown into, in contrast, the deaf community members are widely scattered and miles apart. They can only be considered as a “community” when they are gathered together to socialize.
That’s exactly what happened when I attended the 5th Deaf Bible Camp at Luzon Baptist Camp in Mariveles, Bataan last April. Close to 300 Filipino deaf youth and adults mostly from the Luzon island attended this yearly Christian activity. Although I already had a taste of these camp-style Christian deaf gatherings before, I haven’t experienced this huge based on deaf’s population perspective. By the way, the term “camp” here is a misnomer since we sleep on the comforts of dorms and double-deck beds and not inside makeshift tents.
I was with 30 of our deaf students including my trusted deaf brother Ervin Reyes. I knew that this number will be my nightmare in management and supervision. We were the largest delegation. Even though they are already young adults, most of them in their early twenties, still I will serve as both mouth and ears of the group for five days. Their parents gave unwavering trust in me. I tried to stay unperturbed. But the nightmare soon became a reality.
I won’t reveal here the details of the nightmarish incidents we encountered during those five days in order to protect the integrity of the whole Filipino organizing team and Korean mission group as well as the deaf people involved. However, I can’t help but become more wary and express my reservations on joining events like this in the future unless more careful planning and preparations must be properly done first. I’m not saying that they did not make some plans. I understood their situation. They never expected to have this much turnout. With gatherings as huge this, unexpected incidents are bound to happen. Still, God’s unseen hand made the whole event truly safe and successful. 🙂
Overall, the week-long camp was a challenging experience for me. During plenary activities at the main chapel, I became more attuned with the community. Suddenly, I realized that in this gathering, I was part of the minority! I didn’t feel that I was surrounded by people from another world. There were no musical instruments during “Praise and Worship” singing although a regular drum was sparsely used to get their beats. Still, you feel the presence of people reciting praise songs to God.
Sound system is of no use in assemblies like this. But the message of God’s word echoed loud and clear on all corners of the hall. And so do gossips. 🙂 You can see signs being thrown fast from one side of the bench to the other side a few meters away without others being bothered. However, one slight turn, and bang, the message was not sent! Worst, some messages were received by wrong persons! tsk tsk tsk 🙁
You think everything is happening on a deafening silent atmosphere? It ain’t so! You can still hear deaf people voicing some words or making some inaudible sounds. Intermittent clapping, surprised shouting and contagious laughs can be heard. Still, the silence is nothing compared to a normal noisy gathering of hearing people.
From the 300 or so participants, I estimate that there were only around 20 of us who can hear. We were not even 10% of the total attendees! Among the hearing people includes the children of deaf pastors, three hearing pastors for the deaf like Pastor Mario Tomboc of Pangasinan Baptist Church, Pastor Andy Yambao of Bataan Church and another Pastor Andy from Tarlac church who was in charge of the food preparation and of course Pastor Julius wife, Teacher May Andrada. Although I already worked with Ptr. Mario, Deaf Ptr. Julius and his lovely wife May, Deaf Ptr. Rolando Landicho of CCBC, Deaf Ptr. Cesar Castro and his wife Sharon and Deaf Counselor John Paulo, it was the first time for me to get acquainted with other pastors including deaf leaders like Ptr. Jericho Manalo of Nueva Ecija and Ptr. Mamerto Cortez Jr. of Quezon, the proud father of my blog inspiration Jefferson Cortez. Korean Deaf Mission Society was led by their Deaf Rev. Shon Cheon Sig. It was also a great pleasure for me to meet new hearing friends which instantly became my colleagues in the deaf world (please see photo caption). We shared our exciting yet oftentimes thankless experiences serving the deaf community.
I even suggested to Ptr. Mario that with this large gathering, we might be able to install a congressman representing the deaf people in the House of Representatives. He agreed with me.
There were times when the “hearing group” was too noisy doing their thing at the back of the chapel while programs were going on. But that’s just it. We were at the back, being sidelined while the main protagonists were in front doing their ministry. We believe that the congregation was not bothered by our “other activities” at the back since they can’t hear us.
But did we feel being neglected? Definitely not! This is their activity. Let them be in the forefront. We were just at the back waiting for their beck and call in case they needed our humble assistance. Actually they did made some close calls and we were there. We did our ministry. 🙂