It didn’t turn out that way, however. Other non-members also came including city/government officials. It was amazing. I spoke for the worship service this past Sabbath (September 29, 2019) The church was full and a large room in the adjacent school received the overflow most of church members who had given up their church for this special event. It was estimated that the attendance was over 600 with about 75 or more blind. Where leaders have a “vision” (even the blind have visions!!) and God is present, things will happen. On a personal level I could not have received a warmer welcome. The leader for the blind in Brazil is Juliana Santos who began losing sight at the age of nine but became blind five years ago. She is married to a pastor and has three children. Jackeline Mennon, the division coordinator for the Deaf, was there to give verbal descriptions for the blind so they could better understand what was taking place. My Portuguese translator, Yuri, did an excellent job. He is graduating with double majors in Theology and in Translation. The conference president, Pr. Oliver Ferreira, took the day off to meet me at the airport and drive me nearly two hours to where I was to stay. A few years ago, he had served as my translator. Pastor Edison Choque, the division leader, could not be present because of another evangelistic commitment. The members were so excited about our new name change and what it represented (see below). No blind person, nor Deaf person, nor physically or mentally challenged individual has ever asked to simply be a “mercy” recipient. What they have asked of me is this: “How can I get involved with the mission of the Church?” A great example of this came when I was invited to the home of a blind lady and her family for Friday night vespers and supper. Here is what I learned:
BLINDNESS GAVE HER A MINISTRY
Regiane Bittencourt had gone to a bank in Brazil to withdraw some funds. After doing so she walked to her car, got in and began driving to her business. It had been raining and the windows to her car were rolled up. Soon a motorcycle with two people on it drove up next to her, pulled a gun, pointed it a Regiane and fired. She was struck near the left temple of her head. The bullet traveled through her head damaging eyes and optical nerves and circled around to the back of her head. She lost consciousness and the car smashed into some trees. She was found and rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Regiane who, just minutes before had perfect sight, now lost sight in both eyes. She nearly died. The bullet remains lodged in the back of her head. She would tell you, if you were to meet her, that it is a miracle that she is alive, but the miracle doesn’t stop there. This happened about 6 years ago.
Today Regiane, who never gave Bible studies in small groups, is meeting with 46 blind individuals of which only six are Seventh-day Adventists. During my visit to Brazil last Sabbath one of those who attends her small group Bible study was baptized. Regiane had not been a public speaker; she is now a sought-after speaker in local churches—Adventist churches and others as well.
I am reading a fascinating book in which I found this statement, “Mission is not defined by living a life in a remote mission field. Mission is a life laid down. Wherever we lay our life down and display the love of Christ, that is mission.” [See Disability in Mission: The Church’s Hidden Treasure, Edited by David C. Deuel and Nathan G. John, pp.52-53]
(I had vespers and supper with Regiane, her husband, Marshall, and their two children They live near Sao Paulo, Brazil. The songs they chose to sing for vespers were especially inspiring in light of what their whole family has been through. We sang “How Great Thou Art” and “Above All” for vespers. Their experience and the songs that they can still sing with great enthusiasm should be an encouragement for all of us. —September 27, 2019)
Click the pictures below to view enlargements.
Juliana Santos, Leader for the Blind in Brazil
Regiane Bittencourt and her husband, Marshall
Blind lady who was baptized being interviewed
by Marceloa de Carvalho, Conference Secretary
Larry and his Portuguese translator, Yuri
Here is a link to a video about Regiane's story and her ministry: https://m360.tv/s18411 (subtitles available in English and Brazilian Portuguese)
NAME CHANGE FOR THE MINISTRY I LEAD
When I was asked in 2015 to lead out in this ministry, we weren’t sure what to call it. We knew the Deaf with whom I had been working for about five years along with Stewardship, would not appreciate being part of “Disability Ministries.” Finally, the name, “Special Needs Ministries”, was chosen. Soon the ministry grew to include seven different ministries or categories: Deaf, blind, physically and mentally challenged, orphans and vulnerable children, widows and widowers, and caregivers. After spending much time with individuals from each group in many locations around the world our understanding of these ministries deepened. While the “needs” are certainly great the greater need was to have a life with purpose and fulfillment. We began testing another name (“Possibility Ministries”) when we were in Loma Linda for the joint meeting with Health Ministries. Our new name, voted by the GC Administrative Committee on September 17 is “Adventist Possibility Ministries.” We are all about seeing in others, possibilities (not disabilities – though challenges are not ignored) that are often overlooked. This means our (the Church at every level) ultimate objective is to help find opportunities where their spiritual gifts are both recognized and implemented in God’s mission.
PAUL’S WISE COUNSEL
“Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do. Everything that is good and pleasing to him.” (Romans 12:2) [Contemporary English Version]