Couple doing decades of missionary work with the deaf

Staff reporter

Sunday, April 29, 2018

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ANTHONY and Icilda Demercado have been doing missionary work with the deaf community for most of the 35 years of their marriage.

The journey began in 1990 when their church — Portmore Missionary — sent them to make a difference at Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) in Knockpatrick, Manchester.

“It started in our first mission conference that the church had — the Sunday at the closing of the mission conference. Nothing went right. Gas ran out and Cilda (his wife) said to me, “There's a blessing for us at church Tony, let's go,” he said.

“I went through the back and there were some young people signing, and something hit me that I started to cry, and Cilda said, 'Tony this is embarrassing.' While I was there watching them, a voice said to me 'this is where I want you to use the gifts I'm gonna give you,' and I said 'yes, Lord but you have to tell my wife.”

Incidentally, his wife had a similar experience just around the same time.

“I had the same experience where I felt like the Lord was calling us to go and work there, and I said, 'yes Lord but you have to tell Tony because men don't listen very often'. After the service, I was looking for him, so that I could talk to him, before talking to the gentleman who brought the team to us. I couldn't find him anywhere, turns out he was talking to the gentleman about the possibility of working with them. When I found him, I joined in the conversation. That was October or November in 1989,” Icilda told the Jamaica Observer.

For the Christian couple, working at the CCCD was a life-changing experience. Icilda explained to the Sunday Observer that she learnt to appreciate things more, as she realised that there were things she took for granted.

Working with her husband and other missionaries, they had a chance to see the deaf students aspire to become great, and blossom into chefs, pastors, teachers, IT specialists, Government employees and other professionals.

The couple lamented that these moments were special, because in those times hearing people did not understand the deaf. Subsequently, they were mocked and despite having the ability, were not given the chance to use it as professionals in the working world.

“If a parent had four, five children the hearing ones get everything, then the deaf one would get whatever is left. The cost was minimal to get them in school, and not even that they would maintain. So we had to raise their self-esteem,” Tony shared.

Over a time, with the collective efforts of the missionaries at CCCD they gained the confidence and a positive aggression needed to push through the stigma and become successful. But the task was not easy, because according to Anthony, the youngsters were very defensive.

“Many of the young men especially were aggressive, and it's because of their experiences. It took six to seven months (for them to accept the missionaries and start believing in themselves). It was one afternoon while I was on duty and I was lining them up, and I was giving jokes and they started laughing. They said to me “perfect deaf now,” he said.

Asked what was different about the group's approach, seeing that the school was in operation before their arrival, Anthony said they showed them the love of Jesus and they were Jamaicans.

“It was the Jamaica influence, because some Americans were there first, and the different culture in administration. We could identify with them, they could identify with us,” he said.

In 2011, they felt that it was time for them to move on and change lives elsewhere. They told the Sunday Observer that they waited patiently for God to show them their next move. The answer came in 2015 and they went to Haiti. There, they found that the deaf community suffered immensely from marginalisation. The building they used for church and school was in a deplorable state, and the Demercados wondered how they were able to sit on the benches.

“One of the first things that God provided for them is 10 new benches free of cost. It came out of a bad experience (the door and all the plyboard in the back were stolen.) This was in August of 2015 and the minister was thinking 'how do we reopen school next month with the back wide open and no front door and no money,” Icilda recounted.

A visitor to the island donated benches.

“The students went out with their phones and were taking pictures. They were so excited, we had to remind them that they had to help take the benches off the vehicle,” she said.

One of the first improvements that the group did, was to build a bathroom with septic tanks because there was no toilet facility.

“A teacher came up to us when we were finishing up the toilet and said this should be my bedroom. I nearly cried because we thought we were doing so great,” Anthony said.

The building's condition was so bad that it would cost more to repair than build a new structure. The missionary group made a collective decision to build a church to replace the old one. The official opening will take place this year.

According to the couple, to outsiders this would seem like a lot. However, there is a lot more work to be done for the deaf community in Cambry Les Cayes, Haiti. After the official opening of the church, the next thing on the agenda is to expand the dormitories because at present it only has three rooms to accommodate 30 people, and the community is growing.

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