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Signs of Hope

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

November 2018

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“What does the elephant say, Thiago?” I asked as I pointed to the toy animal sitting in his lap. He responded with a loud “whoooo!”as his right arm shot up in the air like a mighty trunk. “Very good! Muy bien!” Little did I know before becoming a parent that the limited Peruvian Sign Language I have picked up in recent years would be a useful tool in communicating with our now 18-month-old boy learning to speak his first words in Spanish and English. These past four months have been more life-giving than I could ever have imagined. Yes, it is exhausting, stressful and challenging. But, it is also uniquely joyful. Thiago is a gift beyond measure. And in seeing the gift that he is, I have also come to learn again the gift of transformation that takes place when we stand with others who are fighting with all their might for the rights of their children and the children of others.

At the same time Jenny and I welcomed Thiago into our lives back in June, we also broke ground on building the very first public school for deaf children in all of Peru, located in the high jungles of the region of San Martin. As I write, the finishing touches are being placed on the first phase of the school, and very soon the doors will be open. Making this project possible were three Presbyterian Churches — Broad Street Presbyterian Church (Columbus, OH), the Korean Presbyterian Church of Westchester County (New Rochelle, NY), and Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church (Southern Pines, NC). In June, July and August, they each sent teams of youth and adults who labored alongside the parents of the students in digging the septic tank, clearing rocks, and moving bricks, among many other supervised tasks — all of course when they were not playing games, sharing meals, learning signs, and sharing the Good News of God´s Love by being in joyful and inclusive community with the students and their families who have long been ignored and discriminated against.

While construction began back in June, this initiative began well over five years ago, led by Paz y Esperanza, a member organization of our Peruvian partner the Joining Hands Network. Paz y Esperanza identified the high rates of children with deafness (seven times higher than the national average) in the rural region of San Martin, and it saw the State´s lack of services provided for them — namely, education. Until now, children with deafness from rural and impoverished regions like San Martin have been placed in regular classrooms, with a lack of any Spanish abilities and not even an understanding of Peruvian Sign Language. In effect, there are countless children growing up with no language, no way to communicate (not even with their parents), no friends, no community, no hope, and no dreams or vision of any future. So, Paz y Esperanza organized the parents, brought the children and youth together, and found the resources to start teaching them their language while beginning the long work of advocating for their rights to specialized bilingual/bicultural education. And, it was Jenny who connected us to this work, as she began placing Young Adult Volunteers in San Martin to first learn Peruvian Sign Language and then become teachers’ aids for new students and parents.

This initiative has been very intentional in wanting to create a public school for the deaf community, as opposed to a private institution. Not only do we believe that it will be more accessible to more children and more sustainable in the long run, but through the process we will also be shaping social and political understanding of both the needs and the gifts of the deaf community. What has become so apparent to me is that this community of children is not a burden to their families nor society; rather they are a blessing many times over! They are smart; they are gifted; they are loving; and they are determined. They deserve an accredited and adequate education so that they can develop their talents, create dreams, achieve them and offer their gifts to their neighbors and beyond. The world needs them to get an education!

No doubt the road ahead is long, but significant steps have been made. Because of the advocacy efforts driven by the parents’ organization, public land was set aside specifically for the construction of the school for the deaf. Also, substantial funds have been earmarked in the regional government´s budget for continued construction of the school. And, because of the parents’ efforts, we now have an incredibly dynamic teacher on the local school district payroll, as well as a very talented teacher’s aide who is also fluent in sign language.

Right now the school is small — just two classrooms for about 30 students. But the vision is big: a complex with dormitories, a kitchen and more classrooms for up to 500 students to serve the entire region of San Martin. But before we get there, we have much to do in promoting the vision of bilingual/bicultural education within the Ministry of Education and the local school district. Presently, the school is only recognized as a place where deaf children can learn their language and later Spanish reading and writing. The vision of our partners is for it to become a fully accredited school that will offer high school diplomas. What we are doing is unprecedented in Peru. While daunting, it is so very exciting.

Seeing where these children have come from — having no language and no friends — to where they are today, welcoming us and our Presbyterian friends from the US into their community, moves me to continued commitment. And, to be able to accompany their parents, so many of whom come from extremely limited resources, giving all they have for their kids, is the exact blessing I need in my life so that I may dare to be a blessing to my own sweet Thiago, unceasingly fighting for his right to develop the many gifts God has bestowed upon him. And, quite frankly, the kids at the school are just super cool, and I can´t wait for Thiago to meet them! He couldn’t find better friends anywhere.

Of course, you, too, are our highly treasured friends whom we cannot wait for Thiago to meet one day soon! In a world often writhing in pain and struggling in so many places and for so many reasons, I know of no other way to begin responding than to give thanks to God for all of you who accompany us from afar and live out your daily lives with compassion and grace with a faith that compels us to seek understanding in these confusing times. As we pray for you, Jenny and I ask that you, too, pray for us, our family, our partners, and the communities we walk alongside. And, please continue to support us in the most effective way you know how and are capable of. But above all, remember to give thanks for the people in your own lives — those you walk with in struggle and in joy — that you may be transformed again for the building of God´s “kindom” here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

With Hope in this Season of Thanksgiving,

Jed Koball

Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear partners in God’s mission,

We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.

Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.

Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.

Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.

I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!

In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!

At God’s service and at your service!

José Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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