2020 M.Div. graduate ministers with the Deaf in Jamaica

Two percent of the world’s population is deaf, and 98% of those have never been told about the Gospel. The Carribean Christian Center for the Deaf (CCCD) in Jamaica has been working for years to change that statistic, and in 2020, WTS graduate Patrick Bloemendaal, his wife Kara, and their four-month old son, Silas, moved from their home in Michigan to join the organization.

“CCCD operates four campuses across the island,” says Pat. “One is Jamaica Deaf Village and three are schools.” The organization’s mission is to “reach, teach, and nurture the Deaf of Jamaica so that they can experience the joy of knowing Jesus and serving within their community.”

Pat and Kara were introduced to CCCD when Pat was working as a youth minister at Community Reformed Church in Zeeland, MI and attending WTS through the distance-learning program. The church asked them to lead a short-term team to the island, and they felt such a strong connection with the ministry that they wanted to return full-time.

CCCD Student poses for a photo during Pat & Kara’s second trip to CCCD in 2019

These days Pat and his family work, play, and worship all in Jamaican Deaf culture. Although they had learned some American Sign Language before they arrived, now they are learning Jamaican Sign Language.

“Every country around the world has their own unique sign language,” Pat explains. “Silas is learning too; most of his signs revolve around going outside and food.”

Although the Deaf do not consider themselves disabled, many in mainstream Jamaican society look down on them, and they have a very high unemployment rate. CCCD empowers the Deaf community and models Deaf leadership through pastors, staff, and a CEO who are all deaf themselves.

“The ability to provide a way to communicate opens the door to the gospel and a ton of other resources,” Pat shares.

Recently, he and Kara put together classes to help the Deaf residents transition into their next phases of life— working and/or living away from the Deaf Village if they choose. Once a month they offer classes on topics like marriage and family, computer skills, resume building, banking, conflict resolution, and more. Pat and Kara bring in Jamaican leaders to teach the classes and paint a picture of what is available across the island.

Pat preaches to the New Life Church of the Deaf congregation and students from the Knockpatrick campus (pre-pandemic)

Patrick completed the Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry (GCDM) while he was at seminary, and he says that helped to broaden his perspectives and engage populations who are often overlooked.

“I live in a community that is for the Deaf, run by the Deaf,” he shares. “It’s changing my perspective and understanding. Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do when given language access, resources and knowledge. The GCDM program at Western came alongside the ministry I was already doing as a youth pastor and changed the lens with which I see people—we’re all made in the image of God and He has a story and journey for each one of us.”

CCCD students lead in worship

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for CCCD and some of Pat and Kara’s initial plans for ministry. Forty percent of the organization’s funding usually comes from the short-term teams who visit, and Pat was supposed to be in charge of those teams. Instead, he has designed a three-week virtual experience where small groups can sign up together to receive two emails per week with videos, testimonials, and resources to learn about Deaf communities around the world, raise awareness, and sponsor a project through CCCD.

Pat hopes the program will benefit the team members’ own personal spiritual lives as they discuss the content. He also tries to schedule one live event with people from the village so the team can interact in a more personal way.

Another challenge comes from schools in Jamaica being online since last March. Although sign language via Zoom is possible, the small squares on a screen are hard to see. Some families don’t have access to computers or tablets, or they have to share one device between multiple children.

Facial expressions are also an important part of sign language and can be difficult to convey behind a mask or over Zoom.

For now, Pat and Kara are focusing on building relationships with teachers and staff and continuing to learn the language and culture.

“We’re not here to make waves or start anything new,” Pat shares. “We’re here to partner with what the Deaf are already doing and support them. It’s my goal that we continue to find this place as home and earn credibility. We’re expanding our family and are excited about the roots we’re laying down.” They are expecting their second child in August.

“My life has always been about getting as much experience as I can,” he says. “Volunteer opportunities, everything I could get my hands on. That would be my advice [to students]—just go get experience. It’s the same with the GCDM or any of the other certifications that Western offers. If you have the opportunity and freedom to take part in those programs, do it. Experience is key, and you have no idea what God is going to call you into. I never thought I’d be running a transition program or preaching in sign language, but here I am.”

See this story and more in our March 2021 issue of The Commons