Some members of a Church for the deaf in Lagos
Pix by Dayo Emmanuel
Some years ago, the Lagos State Government, South West Nigeria, sealed some worship centres for their failure to comply with regulations regarding noise pollution. The deaf in Nigeria, numbering about 9 million people are also shared among the various religious groups and operating their own worship centres. If God hears the deaf who worship in silence, using the sign language, the hearing may have no excuse to engage in noise pollution in the name of calling on God. DAYO EMMANUEL visited the Assembly of Deaf Church, becoming the ‘deaf’ in their midst, he reports.
A cold and noisy Sunday morning it was. Blaring megaphones pierce the innocent air. High praises and loud prayers from various worship centres enveloped the atmosphere. Such is a major feature of a typical Sunday morning in the Lagos metropolis, home to over 17.5 million people according to a 2011 survey.
Despite the noisy compound hosting a couple of churches in Gowon Estate area of the metropolis, it was also a Sunday morning in one of the class rooms of Palmville Schools, where a group of deaf men and women gathered in a silent but sign-full worship.
The Assemblies of God Deaf church is the church for the deaf. The service began with a Bible study titled “God’s Promises for those who pray.” Bible text for the day was Mathew 7:7-11 and the congregation, numbering about 30 adults had a deep discussion on prayer.
The deaf seem to have a deep understanding of God’s word as they interacted, asking relevant questions. Obviously, there was no distraction from the noise of public address systems of neighbouring churches and the church for the deaf seems to be cheaper to run with the absence of a public address system or musical instruments which are needless in their sincere worship to God.
Soon it was question time and a brother asked, “if I pray for more than two or three years without answer, what do I do?” The teacher was prompt to answer, “God knows the thoughts of man and answers are delayed because of unbelief” other members took turn to ask bothering questions on prayer which were all answered scripturally.
Pastor of the congregation, Kenneth Yero took over the podium as he led the congregation in a powerful prayer session. Yero is deaf, but not dumb as he could totter his words which were accompanied by sign language.
According to him, he became deaf at age five and he had lived with such disability ever since. He led his congregation in a passionate prayer for the unity of the church in Nigeria, for the leadership of the country and Lagos State, because, according to him, “it is in the peace of the nation that the deaf could have their peace and develop.” “Pray for the church in Nigeria, because God will build His church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it,” he urged. Despite their disability, Yero asked the congregation to pray that the presence of God envelopes all churches worshiping across the world. He In his sermon, “the God that answers by fire”, the Adamawa born cleric described God as a prayer answering God who only answers to those who call upon Him in faith. The pastor seems to wield a great influence among his members who took turn to seek counsel after the service. The deaf also had a nice time in the presence of God, singing and dancing in sign language.
According to Yero, the Assemblies of God Deaf Church was inaugurated in 1998 and was later adopted by the Assemblies of God Church. “The mission is to preach the gospel to those who are lost and to reach those who are blind to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” he said.
Unemployment is a major plague among the deaf in Nigeria which has made quite a lot of them take to begging along major streets, public buildings and bus stations. The situation has also exposed the deaf in the country, especially the female members to untold hardship including sexual abuse which they keep suffering in silence.
The 2006 national headcount had put the figure of the deaf in Nigeria at about 9 million persons, the equivalence of the population of Holland. Their disability is however no fault of theirs and this army of disabled but sometimes able people have often proved to be equal to their hearing counterparts who often discriminate against them.
Adewale Adeyanju is the President of National Handicap Carers Association (NAHCAN), a non governmental organisation that sees to the welfare of persons with disabilities in Nigeria. Adeyanju, an activist and social worker has traveled locally and internationally on disability issues. He is of the opinion that the government has not done enough to cushion the effect of the hardship among people living with disabilities.
“We are sad when we keep reading about several millions of Naira belonging to the public being siphoned through private accounts while we keep wallowing in poverty,” Adeyanju said. The activist, who had been at the fore front of a rape case involving a deaf woman has pointed poverty as a factor endangering the deaf in Nigeria. “We are currently in the Magistrate Court to defend a deaf woman who was raped repeatedly, it is a serious issue and we have to defend her, seriously speaking, we need help on the rape case for justice to be done,” he pleaded.
The hearing impaired activist stated further that, “in civilized countries, the deaf for instance do not need to struggle to survive like we do in Nigeria because there is enough legislation to support them but here in Nigeria, things are hard for the people with disabilities.”
Adeyanju who also runs the Sign Language Communications Technology, a counseling and mentoring outfit for the deaf holds a National Certificate of Education (NCE) in special education. He also complained that, “even when the deaf or other disabled people are qualified for a job, we are often marginalised and discriminated against, leading to more poverty in the community of the deaf.”
Pastor Yero is of the opinion that disability is not a punishment from God and God does not discriminate because He has created all humans in His image and likeness. “Sometimes, disabilities come as a result of human errors and people with disabilities should be showed care and affection,” he said, adding that, “the same way God hears the prayers of the able bodied people is the way He also answers people with disabilities. It is not the amount of noise you make in prayers that guarantees your answers.”