African deaf Christian leaders gathering in East London
[notice] SPECIAL REPORT by Asanda Katshwa who introduces herself and her story here: My name is Asanda Katshwa. I am a member of Pastor Phumie’s church in Mdantsane, East Lonson We fellowship in my parents’ double garage (My parents are also deaf) , since we do not have a formal building yet. I am a Sign Language interpreter by profession — this interview with Pastor Phumie was conducted using sign language. I have witnessed this modest man of God do wonderful things for the community of deaf people. His love for God and enthusiasm to win souls is really something admirable. He is hosting the DEF (Deaf Ecumenical Forum) meeting of deaf Christian leaders from South Africa and other African nations from October 9 to 11, which is being held outside the Western Cape and Gauteng for the first time since its inception in 2008.
I don’t know where Pastor Phumie gets the energy and patience, because converting deaf people and instilling sound Christian values among them is a difficult task he seems to do effortlessly. I hope that his story will inspire many more people, especially hearing people who assume their ears make them better Christians or that deaf people cannot receive the Gospel. God is doing wonderful things through this ministry; deaf people are teaching people who can hear the Word of God and they are good at it![/notice]
Pastor Phumie Jemane’s life has been accompanied by a number of unusual twists and turns. On the 7th day (seven being an interesting and significant number –a number of completion) after he was born (August 16, 1965) his mother died and he was taken in by a foster family. The woman who adopted him was accused of bewitching and killing his mother. Throughout his teenage years Phumie was harassed by evil spirits that led him to walk into a forest in the middle of the night. The last-born of four children in a family with no history of deafness, his deafness provided another reason for the family to accuse his foster mother of doing bad things in the family. However Phumie was always grateful to be alive.
Unlike many deaf children from rural areas, who do not get to go to school until their teens, Phumie was fortunate enough to attend St Thomas School for the Deaf on the outskirts of King William’stown from the age of 5. There, for the first time, he saw other deaf people and people communicating using sign language. He quickly got interested in the organised nature of the Catholic Church system (the school was run by Catholic nuns) and when he was old enough he become an altar boy and almost never missed church. He had a dream that one day he would become a priest or a teacher. Hid deafness prevented other people from seeing his potential and the nuns discouraged him from pursuing an academic career and encouraged him to become an artisan.
Pursuing his dream
Nonetheless, a seed of ambition was planted. He left school after completing his primary education. Three years later he began to look for employment and not finding anything suitable set out by train for the City of Gold. He knew nobody in Johannesburg and was not prepared for the political unrest including the killing of Xhosa people by Inkatha members during that period of the early 1990s.
However deaf people all over the world easily relate to each other and he had no problem finding accommodation in a men’s-only hostel through a deaf ‘friend’ he just met. Those were interesting times it seems. One day while out looking for work and feeling dejected after several failed attempts to find employment, he saw a big banner on a building proclaiming ‘Jesus is Lord’. “How? What could this mean?” he wondered, having never seen anything like this before. Curious he decided to enter the building and ‘try’ his luck by asking for a job. He was asked to come back on Sunday. Although this request was unusual it did not raise any ‘suspicion’. Lo and behold, this was a church! This was not a traditional looking Catholic church with the virgin Mary and baby Jesus that he was used to, so he truly believed they were going to employ him the following Sunday. Everything was done differently in this church (Christian City in Elandsfontein) , especially the way they praised and worshipped with their hands raised up, shouting, jumping, and clapping.
Ps Phumie says of his suprise, first church experience in Johannesburg: “I was furious, thinking they were making a mockery of God. I really thought they were disrespecting the whole of Christianity. However I kept going back for more, and in two weeks I was saved. I was born again and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and saviour. Luis Pombo was instrumental in my learning the basic foundation of Christianity. He was a dedicated member of that church and also deaf. He took me under his wings and taught me the Word. The more I learnt the Word the more I was hungry for the Word. In a few months I got a job, and we started to vigorously evangelise other deaf people in other areas — all those who did not have the privilege to be preached to in a language that is accessible for them — Sign Language. For the first time I felt the presence of the Lord in my life.
“For a few months after that, there was a Bible text that used to ‘bother’ me all the time, Acts 26:16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant, and a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I did not understand the meaning of this verse, until after I told a deaf friend who was grown in the Word. He suggested we pray about it. At this time it was a year since I was born again but somehow I felt I was still not ready to get baptised, but after the day this deaf friend shared his revelation of what he thought the text meant, I felt I was ready to be baptised and move on to another level with the Lord.
“My growth in the Lord is owed to dedicated deaf friends like Charles and his wife Shirley Visser who ‘animated’ the Bible and made it come alive for me. They made us believe that we too could stand in front of people and teach the Word; they made it seem soo simple.
“In the year 2000 I was getting more and more confident in teaching and sharing the Word of God using Sign Language and we were converting more and more deaf people and they were getting born again. At this time I was also asked to lead a local fellowship, Coffee Bar Deaf Ministry in Fordsburg, Johannesburg.
“After many years of my internal struggle and avoiding the nudging of God, I finally gave in and went to study ministry full time in Worcester. I was 42 years old, had a full-time secure job, a wife and two children, a house , car and thought I was happy and content with my life. It was a difficult thing to do, leaving all the security and venturing into the unknown, just because I had a burden in my heart to know more about God, to learn more about His ways, to be in His presence more. I enrolled with Deaf Christian Ministry Africa (DCMA) a College in Worcester, Western Cape. It is an institute that provides full support to student ministers throughout Africa, where the curriculum and staff are deaf friendly and accessible to us all in Sign Language. I studied there from 2007 to 2010, full time. DCMA ran different ministerial courses in conjunction with Veritas College International. I finally received my Advanced Diploma in Biblical Ministry at the end of 2010 and headed to the Eastern Cape where I was to start a new chapter of my life. . .
“The day of my ordination was such a blessed day. Everyone was communicating to me using sign language. Even the Pastor who ordained me, Pastor Dirk Venter, is a fluent signer – God is good. The road leading to my graduation was not an easy one, there were times when I was discouraged and wanted to quit and go back to work or my previous life; they challenged a lot of things and a lot of cultural beliefs I grew up with, they challenged me in many ways, even there were times when written English text was too complicated to comprehend, considering that English is my third language after Xhosa and Sign Language.
Immediately after the graduation I and my young family headed for the Eastern Cape. We started a ministry known as Masidumise Deaf Fellowship (Let Us Praise Him): this ministry is more than giving the Gospel of Jesus to and converting deaf people; it has become a second home for many deaf people who are dejected and abused by either family members or members of their communities. Our ministry is not only open to deaf members but to even hearing people, some who might not even understand Sign Language. We are trusting God to help us spread the Word throughout Africa, to ensure that deaf people also hear the Gospel of Christ’’
Currently Ps Phumie oversees the Mdantsane branch which covers Scenery Park and Duncan Village and meets at Mdantsane 2. He has also established branches in King William’s Town and Khayelitsha, Cape Town and is busy establishing a branch in Umtata.
Next week he hosts a unique gathering that grew out of a meeting a few years ago in which deaf Christian leaders in and around South Africa met and established a ‘forum’ where they can meet and share burdens, offer support, empowerment, advice, guidance etc. The forum, DEF, was founded in 2008 and the annual meeting is a gathering where skills are transferred, experiences are shared and people praise and worship God together. Next week’s meeting in East London will be the 7th annual meeting and the first in the Eastern Cape. Some 50 deaf Christian leaders from all over South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana, Lesotho and Ghana are expected to attend. The theme this year is ‘Let us praise and worship God’. The organisers are trusting God to use the meeting to empower deaf ministers and leaders to empower more deaf people for Jesus.
Ps Phumie says: ‘’Working fulltime in Ministry is no easy feat, however I have no doubt in my mind that this is what the Lord called me to do. God blessed me also with the most supportive wife I could ask for. Uriel, who is also deaf, is really a servant of God, humble, patient and loving. When I look back on my life I see clearly how every step was ordered by God. We have four kids — two boys and two girls and they are all deaf I could not have asked for anything better.’’