Years ago, in the Amazon Jungle of Pucallpa, a Peruvian pastor had a heart and desire to serve and help others with disabilities, like himself. Like many in Peru, he survived polio as a child, but it left him with physical disabilities. South America Mission (SAM) allowed that pastor to use some of their property directly behind SAM Academy to begin Refugio de Esperanza (The Refuge of Hope). With a focus on educating and teaching a trade to individuals with disabilities, he also wanted them to know the love of God. Thirty-five years later, Refugio is now a flourishing ministry that hosts a preschool, primary school, special ed school, high school, hearing church, Deaf church, boarding opportunities for students in need, and housing for a variety of families and a missionary (me).
For the past five years, I have been blessed to live with, serve alongside, and become part of the Refugio family. I work with Deaf students in the schools here. With a background as a professional Sign Language interpreter in the U.S., it was quite the learning curve to acquire fluency in Spanish and Peruvian Sign Language at the same time upon my arrival. But the struggles were definitely worth it! I can communicate and interpret more fluently with/for my Deaf co-teacher, Carlos, and my Deaf students.
Deaf students here, like many other students with disabilities, are often not accepted into regular schools. Therefore, they are left uneducated. It is common for us to receive a new Deaf student in one of our schools aged anywhere from 3-16 years old who has no formal language acquisition, much less actual reading and writing ability. If they did attend a school before, they are normally just passed along without receiving any official education. Such was the case of one of our high school students, Erick.
Erick is 18 years old and has been attending high school for three years. Previous to that, he was passed along in elementary school and then stayed at home not studying because no high school would accept him. In 2018, Carlos and I went to his house to talk with his mom. We encouraged her to send him to high school at Refugio. So in 2019, he began attending and became a part of our third year teaching high school Deaf students. Erick is hard-of-hearing so he can hear some sounds and can also speak a variety of words. But he had never heard of Jesus until he began attending our high school and the Deaf church at Refugio.
Then we have Jeck Billy. He began attending Refugio’s primary school before I arrived in Pucallpa. Jeck Billy is completely deaf and already knew a lot of Sign Language when I first met him. He is more advanced in his studies, but he also didn´t start truly understanding who Jesus is until he entered high school. And once we began the Deaf church in 2018, that helped to open up more conversations about God and our need for a Savior which helped him understand even more.
For years, I and many others have been praying for the hearts and souls of our Deaf high school students. More recently and specifically for the hearts of Erick and Jeck Billy. God decided to respond marvelously the last week of June!
Cold and Joyous Day
Wednesday, June 30 started like any normal day in the jungle except that it was cold! Due to the cold, I knew that few students would show up for classes. As I walked to my classroom, I was surprised to find that Erick actually arrived early! As we were waiting to see if more students would arrive, I left Carlos in the room with the students for a moment. When I returned, I found Carlos and Erick in a conversation about Salvation. Carlos needed to leave so he passed the baton to me to explain more. I continued the conversation answering Erick´s questions and making sure he understood his need for a Savior. He told us that his heart was pounding as if it would come out of his chest. I could see on his face the battle happening within as the devil fought to keep his soul.
We had the blessing of time because of the cold weather and only three other students in the classroom. I kept praying silently, encouraging him, answering whatever questions or doubts arose in his mind. I asked if he wanted to pray and ask Jesus into his heart. He said yes…so I helped lead him in acknowledging his need for a Savior and asking Jesus into his heart. As soon as we finished praying, I asked him if his heart was still pounding. He said no, then burst into tears. I could see the Holy Spirit´s work of peace on his face. What a joyous day!
Firsts at Deaf Church
I thought that would be the highlight of my week, but God had more plans. On Sunday, July 4, we had church service like normal. My co-teacher Carlos is also the pastor of the Deaf church. At the end of every service, Pastor Carlos gives an altar call with the invitation to accept Jesus or come forward for prayers of repentance. For the first time since we started the Deaf church in 2018, one gentleman stood up and went forward to ask forgiveness of the Lord. He broke the ice, and after him, two others joined him to ask forgiveness of the Lord. We all knew those three were already saved.
As Pastor Carlos continued to invite others up, Jeck Billy stood up. He went forward. Pastor Carlos went to him and asked him why he had come forward. He said he wanted to accept Jesus as his Savior! Pastor Carlos helped lead him in prayer. When they had finished, Jeck Billy returned to his seat as we all were watching him, and as desperately as he tried not to, he couldn´t hold back his tears. Erick, who just accepted Jesus on Wednesday, hugged him, and once again, I saw the Holy Spirit´s peace shining through. The entire church was so excited, and we rejoiced knowing that heaven was celebrating and had just defeated the devil´s evil wiles again! What an amazing week of glorious blessing and fruit!
Join Us In Prayer
Please pray for these two young men as they begin their new lives in Christ. Also, pray for the Lord to send men to work with the Deaf. These young men need mentors and men to disciple them. Pastor Carlos is 67 years old and one of their school teachers, so it is difficult for him to mentor them on a personal level. We wait expectantly for the Lord to send workers for this ripe harvest! Until that time, pray that Pastor Carlos remains healthy and able to continue serving as teacher and pastor to the Deaf students.
Amanda McKinney is a professional Sign Language interpreter. She has been part of the SAM network in Pucallpa for many years serving at Refugio de Esperanza. She formally joined SAM as a missionary in 2020. Her heart’s desire is to make the hope of the Gospel accessible to those who have limited or no language, the marginalized Deaf community in Peru, through education and interpretation.