This year we have started attending a new church, Agape Bible Baptist Church. Sam’s teacher last year, introduced us to her parents one evening when we bumped into them eating out at a restaurant. Her parents, missionaries from the Philippines pastor this church and run a school for deaf people that they also established. Church services are conducted in a combination of English, Tetun, Bahasa, Taglog and sign language. We love singing well known hymns in both English and Tetun. The church attendees are local Timorese, the students from the deaf school and their families, other expat Filipino believers, us and our next door neighbours, another Australian family.
On Mother’s Day each of the mothers had to go up the front and one by one introduce ourselves, and how many children we had, in tetun. I found this a little daunting as I was early on in the line and hadn’t had too much time to think through how to say it best in tetun, but I muddled my way through and I think it made sense.
Last Saturday, the church had a combined school and church fellowship day of sports and fun. We also found out later that it was also the Pastors 36th Wedding Anniversary. It was a public holiday in Timor-Leste, a day that celebrates the Restoration of their Independence, and the nation also inducted their 6th President that day, so it was a great day of celebrating across the nation. We arrived a little late not really knowing what to expect, but everyone was divided up into teams to participate in sports games like giant exercise ball volleyball, Poison ball, tug-of-war and basketball. We watched games and enjoyed the fun of competing together. It is always challenging at church, and in this situation to know who are the hearing people, and who are not. So you find yourself speaking to someone who cannot hear you, or signing to someone you could have spoken to.
Before lunch, Jason was asked to bless the food and was handed the megaphone so the hearing people could hear him. But as he bowed his head and closed his eyes to pray realised everyone else had their eyes open, to watch the signing of his words. Lunch was a yummy combination of marinated chicken, noodles and rice. There were even some freshly made spring rolls some of the Filipino women had made.
At church on Sunday, we were surprised at how many more faces we recognised, after the sports day the day before. Every time I get to know a new group of people, I am always surprised at how long it takes to become familiar with people, and get to know them well. I had wanted to finger spell my name to someone the previous day, but I know my sign alphabet up to the letter L, as that is as far as we have gotten in studying a letter each week at the disability centre where I volunteer. Thankfully someone was able to show me how to make a letter M and so I was able to introduce myself to several of the young women who attend the deaf school. Sam was very excited to learn how to sign his name as well. Meanwhile elsewhere at church, Jason was getting someone to show him how to finger-spell his name and to say “nice to meet you”. So we all learnt that lesson yesterday!
From teaching at Hera, I can sign a lot of the animals, colours, numbers and some other words we use in song lyrics, like God is so good, Jesus loves me and the Wheels on the bus. But I need to keep learning more. Watching the translators sign during church helps a lot, especially the welcoming song which they sing every week. We know many of those signs now.
Something else, both Jason and I commented on yesterday was how much of the Tetun parts of the service we seemed to be understanding. Suddenly I realised instead of just understanding words, I found myself being able to understand whole phrases and sentences. The speed at which they speak, I’m sure is part of my challenge at understanding what is being said, but it was exciting to notice a development in my comprehension of what is being said around me.
I think part of what I love about this church and the school for the deaf, is the love that is evident for the deaf students and their families. Like elsewhere in the world, including in Australia, people with disabilities aren’t always treated well here. Just this week, we became aware of the distressing situation in which one of our students at Hera is having to live. The details are heart wrenching and left me so sad and heart broken for this young woman, who just a year ago had a joy and carefree manner about her. Now she is so very different. So I love being part of a church body, who actively cares for these deaf students and their families, giving them a Christian education but also by helping them to find jobs, save their money and to be independant men and women.