Winter 2019 Update: This is Cuba...

Baracoa Night Life away from the tourist area. Men huddled under street lamps playing Dominos or Chess (as these guys are) is a common sight.

Baracoa Night Life away from the tourist area. Men huddled under street lamps playing Dominos or Chess (as these guys are) is a common sight.

The Deaf community in Baracoa is a flip from Guantánamo. While Gtmo has a larger number of Deaf people, Baracoa’s community has a much larger number of Hard of Hearing folks. Yet they are closely aligned with the Deaf community because they depend on sign language to fill in the information gaps they miss in everyday communication and church activities.

Gabriel, his wife & grandson.

Gabriel, his wife & grandson.

It was interesting doing home visits with predominantly Hard of Hearing (HH) Cubans. Their struggles, while similar, are different enough. We visited the home of Gabriel- a lifelong teacher who dealt with declining hearing loss over his career. When he got to the point where he couldn’t hear enough to do his job well, he had to leave teaching. Would a Hearing Aid have helped? He does have one, provided free by the government. Ask any HH person what one of their frustrations are… not having extra hearing aid batteries!

Ummm, so I asked a follow up question… “Don’t they have batteries where they get their hearing aids?” It was explained that all the batteries are in Guantánamo- 3 hours away. Perplexed, I asked… “but if there are this many HH people here, doesn’t it make sense for the government to have some of that supply in Baracoa where there is a bigger demand?” Ale, the Baracoa Deaf ministry leader chuckled at me and shrugged his shoulders and said… “THIS is Cuba!”

THIS IS CUBA also happens to be the title of a book I just read prior to this trip. It is written by a US Journalist in the mold of Walter Cronkite… when integrity in reporting facts mattered. He lived in Havana for 2 years, and returned numerous times for a total of 10 years. Gaining insight that had me saying AHHH, yes! Ive seen that or have been told that by Cubans!" On this trip, as in my previous ones to this island, I ask many questions trying to better understand life there. More often than not, the answer that comes back is a sigh, a shoulder shrug followed by “THIS is Cuba!”

Yes, things happen there that can befuddle the mind. Such is everyday life for Cubans- Deaf, HH or hearing.

October - January Update

Last September we spend time meeting with the Baracoa Deaf ministry leaders, interpreters and teachers to find out what their needs are, and to better understand the Baracoa Deaf and HH community. This allowed me to come home and try putting together ministry materials that seemed appropriate for this specific group. Utilizing the contacts I made as noted in the Fall Update, the Cuban Deaf/HH ministries have been blessed.

Ministry Materials- Thanks to Manor Church, and a couple deaf ministries- In His Sign, and Expressions of Emanuel for gifts of Felt Story Board kits & supplement materials.

Also, thanks to Evangelist Terri Chapman and Texoma Christian School student organizations for their donation of Bible Story Curriculum Picture sets.

With your donations, thru D2S, we also brought down and gave 2 Bible Story books to the Baracoa Baptist and the Pentecostal deaf ministries. The unique thing in Cuba is that these deaf ministries actively work with those of other denominations because many of the small churches only have a few deaf or HH members. By joining forces, they are able to be exposed to larger number of deaf christians for socialization and bible teaching. So, D2S crosses denominational lines!

During the months I am not in Cuba, the deaf ministries utilize the materials we have brought down previously for bible study. One of the interpreters/teachers- Yunior, is an Art teacher. We brought down a large sketch pad and materials for him to make illustrations of bible stories they are teaching. The youth have been busy using up the arts and crafts materials… in this case, learning the story of Noah and the Ark.

Encouraging Deaf participation and leadership- One of the things we are strongly encouraging is the recognition and development of Deaf/HH christians that can be trained to take on leadership roles within the deaf ministries. The goal is to have these Deaf/HH individuals become recognized leaders and show others what they are capable of doing. In Guantánamo, Mariela is being groomed and has taken on teaching responsibilities. In Baracoa, there are several who are being encouraged to increase their participation as their faith and bible understanding grows.

Giving Presentations on Bible Topics- One of the requests from the Deaf Ministry leaders in Baracoa was to show them different effective ways to teach the Deaf/HH that they can emulate when D2S is not around. We are bringing the presentations done last year in Guantánamo to Baracoa. We are also sharing those presentations with he teachers so they can in turn, give those presentations to their small churches.

Home Visits to Baracoa Deaf/HH- We visited 7 homes over 2 days in the Baracoa area to get to know them, share stories, pray and encourage them in their faith and church participation. A few of them have medical or life issues that prevent them from participating in Church life as much as they used to or want to. So those in that situation appreciated these visits. For some, we were able to discuss possibilities for how the Deaf ministry/church could assist in making it easier for those folks to participate more.

The Deaf Club at the local park…. except for the man looking away (hearing friend) the others are all Deaf or HH and live in the area. They regularly congregate in this park to socialize.

The Deaf Club at the local park…. except for the man looking away (hearing friend) the others are all Deaf or HH and live in the area. They regularly congregate in this park to socialize.

upcoming ministry activities

Previous plans for a campout in Maisi in the spring has changed. Instead, we plan to return to Baracoa and continue working with them, while taking a day trip to Maisi to meet with the Deaf ministry leader and others to gauge how we might best serve them in the future.

Ministry Materials- Since we received the donations from other ministries, Im only able to bring them down a little at a time. Some of these materials are heavy, taking into consideration airline weight restrictions.

D2S Budget- Thanks to donors and those making financial commitments for 2019, the D2S budget for the year is covered. We are grateful for your support!

Looking Back at 2018- It’s been a blessed year considering this ministry is into a country that has been closed off for so long. We had no idea what we would be allowed to do, knowing that Cuba has their restrictions on top of the restrictions placed on US travelers due to the embargo. We jumped in with open eyes and a servants heart, ready to see where God leads us to serve. We have found a community of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people craving help and Churches very receptive to learning how they can better serve their Deaf community. The response has been fabulous. We just received a letter of gratitude from the Pastor of the Baracoa church… I’ll end this update with an exerpt… the English version!

We want to thank on behalf of our church;  the 1st Baptist Church “Puerta del Cielo” from Baracoa Cuba, for the work that has been taking place in the deaf and hard of hearing ministry through our brother Mike Ver Velde and his ministry Deaf2Sordos. It is a great blessing to our church and its teachers; we have been motivated to continue to go forth and strengthen ourselves in the ministry in a way that continues glorifying God in everything.  It is of great help in the service of the Lord, all they have shared with us, the material resources and spiritually. We, as servants of the Lord, thank them and hope they continue to be used for the glory of our Lord.

Your brother in Christ: Pastor Aurelio Labori Matos.

Mike Ver Velde