Education in the South Pacific: An Update on the Fiji Deaf Ministry
By James & Marilyn Cooney
Across Fiji and the South Pacific, people who are deaf are often marginalized and deprived of an education. Fiji Deaf Ministry’s mission is to find them, give them an education and a community, and teach them about God’s love. The ministry includes Gospel School for the Deaf (GSD), Christian Fellowship for the Deaf, and a Fiji Sign Language Bible team.
New leadership and growth
In February 2019, we stepped down after 19 years of serving as Fiji Deaf Ministry’s ministry director and curriculum director. While we are no longer involved in the day-to-day activities, Jim still serves as a trustee. Soon after, we welcomed the new director and his wife, Russell and Sue Neate, from Christ-church, New Zealand.
For several years, Russell has served as an active trustee for the Fiji Deaf Ministry. He is a teacher, preacher, and now, an elder at Suva Street Assembly in Suva, Fiji. Sue has helped train the oﬃce workers and is a spiritual mentor to the hostel staff.
When we started working with the Fiji Deaf Ministry, it had only one hostel and 21 students. Now, we have three hostel buildings, an apartment for the director and his wife, and a teachers’ residence. The hostels house 41 children. The caretakers have more than 100 years of combined experience with the hostels.
God also blessed us with new projects and a new faculty member. Russell, Sue, and the hostel staff created a Hostel Market Day to support the ministry. The students grew a vegetable garden and sold the produce. They achieved their goal and will use the profits to build a covered walkway at the hostel. Our newest teacher, Bola, is a deaf man from Nigeria, and he will be with us for at least three years.
Deaf education in Vanuatu
Some 500 miles west lies a chain of islands known as Vanuatu. In 2018, while visiting Vanuatu, one of our trustees met a deaf boy named Michael and arranged for him to travel to Fiji with his teacher, Edikiel. GSD partnered with Michael’s school and agreed to train Edikiel in sign language and deaf teaching methods.
In 2020, Michael returned with Edikiel and three boys, ages 7 to 13, who had not received much education before coming to GSD. They learned sign language quickly, and the boys have advanced educationally, spiritually, and personally in the school and hostel’s caring community. In December 2020, they returned to their families in Vanuatu. The students and Edikiel will not return to Fiji this year. Instead, the Vanuatu school will start its own deaf education program. At least five more deaf students will join Michael and the three other boys. We will continue to assist them.
Deaf ministry in Kiribati
In the independent republic of Kiribati, a high percentage of people are deaf. More than 20 deaf children have come to Fiji to attend GSD. Most have completed their educations, returned to their home country, and now contribute to Kiribati’s deaf community. One GSD and Gospel High School graduate, Iotebwa, established and leads the Kiribati Deaf Association. Iacabo, Temoua, and Raken are teachers working with young deaf students. We hope to eventually start a deaf Bible study there; meanwhile, we send Bibles to the deaf people who request them.
Recently, as part of Fiji Deaf Ministry’s partnership with Wycliffe Associates, nine Fijian deaf Christians and three American deaf Christians gathered in Fiji to translate Mark into Fiji Sign Language. Using a 12-step process, they summarized a passage, recorded their summary, critiqued each other, and then created a final video. They completed the project in two weeks. The process was not easy, but they persevered in their work. Now, the challenge is to continue translating the entire Bible into a Fiji Sign Language video and to train other Fijian deaf Christians to do the work.
Please pray for this project, for the new deaf program in Vanuatu, and for a deaf Bible study in Kiribati. Pray, too, for the many more unschooled deaf in Fiji and across the South Pacific. May the Lord protect them and bring them to us.
We also appreciate your prayers for spiritual growth among our young adults, for spiritual maturity and leadership in the Christian Fellowship for the Deaf, and for continued prayer and financial support so that we never need to turn away a student. n
James and Marilyn Cooney are commended from Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, Massachusetts.