By Bruce Tegg
The Missouri Baptist Deaf Youth Camp celebrated their 25th anniversary of ministry June 10-15. This year churches from Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas sent a total of 42 Deaf campers. Seven campers made salvation decisions and an additional 10 campers made decisions for repentance, rededication, assurance or to know God better.
Prior to 1982, Deaf children attended the RA-GA camp along with hearing children at Windermere. In 1982, Leslie Hall (Calvary Baptist Church, Kansas City) and Linda Whiggam (Friendship Baptist Chapel of the Deaf, St. Louis) suggested a separate camp be established for deaf children. They, with then interim language missionary David Morgan, made the suggestion to the Missouri Baptist Convention and the DYC began. The Missouri Baptist Convention no longer funds the event.
Hall and Whiggam believed Deaf children's needs are best met in an environment tailored to their needs. They wanted deaf children to encounter the gospel in their own language, American Sign Language.
They also knew the teaching and preaching had to be specifically tailored to reach deaf people, and the camper to counselor ratio had to be low. The camp has now ministered for 25 years, with Whiggam serving the DYC for 24 of those 25 years.
Whiggam's dedication, is shared by Deaf Network Consultant, Judi Barker (Bayless Baptist Church, St. Louis) a 22-year veteran, Belinda Hathoren (Friendship Baptist Chapel of the Deaf, St. Louis) serving 20 years and George Lixey (First Baptist Church, Fulton) also serving approximately 20 years.
Over those 25 years the DYC has introduced hundreds of deaf children to Jesus Christ. Another credit to the success of the camp is the mentoring it offers to older students. As a camper, Joshua Dalton (First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.) could correctly fingerspell all books of Bible in order.
Dalton now serves as a leader and a mentor to the next generation of deaf campers at the DYC. Brent Long (First Baptist Church, Fulton) was also a camper in the past, but because of his faithfulness and commitment to Christ, he now serves as a camp counselor.
Campers don't just learn about missions in North America, George and Lorene Joslin (First Baptist Church Springfield) have served the camp by inviting missionaries from Japan and Ecuador, taught lessons about foreign missions, training interpreters, planning Bible studies, and preparing Bible Studies for the Deaf.
Additionally the DYC is responsible for training Interpreters for the Deaf who now serve in churches and professional associations across the nation. The DYC offered a unique training institute where interpreters were immersed in a totally deaf environment for the week. This experience makes a vast improvement in the student's ASL skills and is comparable to a Spanish student taking a trip to Mexico.
The DYC is funded by the generosity of Christians committed to reaching the Deaf of the next generation. There are no special endowments or grants supporting this vital ministry. Recent years have been especially difficult, both in finding campers and funding, due to competing secular Deaf camp experiences.
“This is the first year we have experienced a shortfall in the budget,” Barker said. “It costs us about one hundred dollars for each person attending, whether camper or worker. This year the donations have decreased and the costs have increased to the point where we are still in need of funds to pay for this year's camp.”
Barker said she appreciated the faithful people who donate VBS materials and funds, but without an increase in financial support, there may not be enough support to keep the DYC going many more years.
According to Census statistics there are 19,907 deaf people above the age of 18 in Missouri. With the Deaf populations of Oklahoma (13,674) and Arkansas (10,938), the DYC seeks to serve the needs of approximately 44,519 Deaf people by reaching Deaf youth. Baptist colleges and universities in Missouri currently do not offer training to reach this population, and, due to budget cuts in the MBC, there are no state consultants who coordinate missions to this growing population.
“Most of the Deaf campers never hear the name of Jesus used in a loving way, until they come to the DYC,” Barker said. “I don't know what we will do next year without sufficient funding."