By Alexander Ogheneruemu
First, let’s set the record straight. This writer is an avid voice of the “Inclusion persuasion” who’s particularly drawn to seeing the spirit and letter of the Disability Inclusion ideal in operation within the household of faith. The fact is, this topic is an emerging area of concern that, for too long has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and ill-projected.
“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begins at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”
In an earlier piece titled “Disability and the Divine” coming from happenings in far away Petersborough Cathedral, United Kingdom, I made the observation on how a refreshingly new slant and tang was coming into the Disability Inclusion Campaign.
I wrote then: “…this time, the church is the center stage and perceptive minds think it’s just a matter of time before the ripple effect shall be felt across continents. What we need is a handful of dedicated thinkers of the inclusion persuasion to pick up and stretch the first chords”.
That prediction is steadily coming to pass. And it is happening in more interesting ways than imagined.
On Penultimate Saturday, August 26, 2023, a young thinker threw up a pleasant surprise during the Impact Academy, Osogbo Global Crusade with Kumuyi, (GCK).
Twenty-year-old Samuel Jesuyon Goboze stole the show with a virtuoso performance. His speech titled “Deaf Dreams” stood out, not just for creativity but also for depth. It was during the “spoken words” variety of the youth program dedicated to nurturing excellence in young minds.
Samuel won lofty accolades and an award from none other than the Covener of the program, Pastor Dr. William Folorunsho Kumuyi. An obviously impressed Kumuyi summoned the young man to the podium and handed him an award received from the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN).
An Inclusive Church – for everyone
Brimming with divinely inspired insights, Samuel’s “Deaf Dreams” again threw up the subject of Church Inclusion with a depth that belies his youthful age.
On the surface, the presentation is an exhortation to pursue dreams and ambitions against all odds. However the perceptive mind, on deeper evaluation, cannot fail to discern the genius touch with which this precocious youth (he’s just one out of his teen years) weaves in a push at driving the “church inclusion” campaign.
This clearly reflected in his response when I raised the issue of complaints of non-inclusion by some deaf brethren and what he thinks can be done for improvement:
“One of the reasons I pushed on with my presentation is because I saw it as an opportunity to include the deaf youth community in the Impact Academy. The Church does need to do better, and I think my presentation is a step in a pretty good direction. I hope and pray it’s built on so we can have an all-inclusive church for everyone.”
Advocacy with genius
The masterpiece unearthed in beautiful poetry, never before identified connections between the conception/pursuit of dreams and the phenomenon of deafness – in a situational context. Then for effect, Samuel (a volunteer terp since the young age of seven) would drive home the “include us” message by employing the language of Deaf persons. Talk about reaching the apogee of Divinely inspired creativity to give winds to sails of equal opportunities and representation.
It was this masterstroke of genius that particularly piqued my curiosity as a deaf person committed to championing better inclusiveness and equal opportunities in the church through enlightenment and advocacy on the subject of Disability.
Come to think of it, this is coming from a part of the globe where standards of interpreting stil falls far behind, ethics are not observed and the majority of Terps, (short for sign language interpreters) are all too often guilty of flawed motives in rendering their services to Deaf persons. Thus it warms the heart to encounter someone who pretty well stands out the pack. The commendation is earned.
I spoke with Samuel to elicit insights and perspectives on the motivation behind his “Deaf Dreams” speech, his links with the deaf community, and to boot, the topic of engendering a church for everyone.
Of Dreams, deafness, and possibilities
Hinting at his inspiration for that award-winning performance, Goboze said, “Throughout history, there have been deaf individuals who were determined and passionate in their pursuit of dreams. And just like dreams, they are often deaf to the discouraging voices that try to hold them back. So in my poem, I explored the journey of dreams and the indomitable spirit within all of us. We urge each other to hold onto our dreams and let resilience grow.
It (the idea) has been laid on my mind for almost nine months, and finally, the perfect opportunity came to let someone out there know their dreams are possible”.
His answer on the choice of topic “Deaf Dreams” and the decision to sign while addressing a predominantly hearing audience was:
“I wanted even the Deaf to know their dreams are possible. I needed any Deaf person watching not to lose sight of the great feats many like them have achieved, and what they can also achieve even with their deafness”.
When I prodded to know if he thought it necessary to involve the Deaf brethren while working on the speech – after all, these are people he’s been working with and whose input ought to count, the response came quite satisfactory.
Read also: Williams Olubodun: Celebrating a deaf farm boy turned Ph.D. holder @ 68; https://churchtimesnigeria.net/williams-olubodun-celebrating-a-deaf-farm-boy-turned-ph-d-holder-68/
“Yes I involved a deaf lady in the buildup to the auditions and although she didn’t quite understand the concept at first, it was all beautiful at the end. I love the deaf community and value every deaf and hard-of-hearing individual out there”.
Commenting on how he came in contact with the Deaf community and began interpreting, the 20-year-old says: “I had my first contact with the deaf community as a really young child. The Osun State Secondary School for individuals with disabilities shared a fence with our church and they were regularly reached out to for church programs until they eventually became part of us.
The school never lacked interpreters because some of the teachers were members of the church at one point or the other. Like every other child, the movement of hands captivated my imagination and I saw it as a great opportunity when I had to learn it. I was about 7 years old when I began interpreting.
Best moment as a Terp
Samuel recalls how his best moment as a sign language interpreter was the first time he assisted a staff at a bank to create accounts for a few deaf students. “Heaven knows she was frustrated and needed an interpreter to restore the communication breakdown or get them off her back right away”, Samuel remembers.
“On walking into the bank, I noticed what was happening and assisted her. The staff was really elated and I became their friend since that time.”
Church inclusion is a ministry
‘Interpreting for the Deaf is a ministry on its own’, Samuel says when asked to share his views on how it feels to stand as a bridge for deaf persons in a hearing world
“I regularly pray before I go to sign because it’s like I’m the one preaching or talking on the pulpit, whereas I’m just an instrument to carry the deaf audience along and I’m grateful to God for that”.
Rounding it up
I write this piece as a keen observer of inclusive concerns within the church – a concern that has received far less than required attention.
In recent times, however, (like a dream whose time has come) this issue is slowly coming to a reckoning. Thanks to a few enlightened minds, some positive moves are springing up here and there. Still, there’s a long, way to go.
The key is to be intentional.
It’s high time the church fully subscribes to and runs with this vision for an inclusive church for everyone.