Category Archives: Member Profile

Burundi Deaf Ministry

Romain is an awesome disciple from Ivory Coast. He came to Burundi on the 29th of September 2021 with the goal of strengthening the Deaf Ministry in this church in Bujumbura. At the time of his arrival, there were only three deaf brothers in the church in Bujumbura. Since his arrival, Romain has been training deaf brother Janvier on how to study the bible along with other deaf disciples as well as having effective bible talks in the Deaf Ministry. Romain and Janvier bonded very quickly and moved around spreading the benefits and blessings of the church as they taught the word of God to the deaf community. Romain taught very many people the Bible and because of this dedication, four eventually started to attend church two weeks after meeting Romain. Of these four, three were baptized on the 19th of October 2021. The three new disciples Thierry, Ferdinand, & Abraham are from a small village called Gihanga which is about 30 Km from the city of Bujumbura. They also taught the children in a deaf boarding school (EPHARTA) in Bujumbura focusing their teachings in the evenings when classes were over. Romain and Janvier invited many deaf parishioners to church for Saturday studies and Sunday church services. Because of their dedication to the Deaf Ministry, there are now six deaf disciples and two interpreters at Burundi. God bless the labor of Romain and Janvier hands and we give Him the glory for their inspiring dedication to the deaf ministry in the church.

Thiery is one of the three brothers in Christ. He is in white. Next to him is Janvier.
Left is Abraham, in white in the middle is Thiery, next to him in white is Ferdinard

Regina McWright

Taryn, a sister from the Dekalb Church reached out to Regina McWright who is Deaf. Taryn contacted Nancy Dawson from the Chicago Church to help with the studies because Taryn does not know American Sign Language (ASL).

In January 2021, Patty Herrenbruck, a sister from the Indianapolis Church got a text from Laura Bolender also of the Indianapolis Church, asking for help with the Bible study.

Laura Bolender, Nancy Dawson, Lynn Mott (Dekalb Church), and Patty were all involved in Regina’s studies.

Regina was hungry for the word as evidenced by her consistency in her studies despite being a single mother of 4, dealing with health issues, and even being admitted in the hospital just one week before her baptism. 

Regina was released from the hospital on May 28th, Nancy asked her if she wanted to get baptized that Sunday, May 30th. She said YES!

Patty and Alice (another Deaf sister in Indianapolis) surprised Regina by showing up for her baptism. They drove for 4 hours to support her baptism! Regina was so shocked that Patty and Alice came that she cried. 

After the baptism, Phil and Jill Perez (leaders of the Dekalb Church) held a cookout to celebrate our new sister in Christ. 

A background info about Regina: She is a single mother of 4. Three of Regina’s children are in elementary and one is in college. Those involved in her studies say she has a great sense of humor, is open about her life, and her struggles. She maintains a positive person regardless of what life throws at her. She is a gift from God to our fellowship.

Photo above from left to right: Jill Perez, Alce Waddell, Regina McWright, Patty Herrenbruck, & Nancy Dawson

My “Reach 2016” Experience

Hello Deaf Ministry,

My name is Katie, and I recently attended the Reach 2016 Summit Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Boy oh boy it was hot; the weather AND the lessons. I was grateful to go even if it meant I had to take a red eye flight at midnight. I was so happy to see many of my friends at the conference and to make some new friends. One of my new friends is Brittany Torres. We had a blast as she showed me around St. Louis with her “city skills”. It was great meeting our new Deaf brother in Christ, Forrest, along with so many other awesome hearing disciples.

At the Deaf track, as we began our time together, we sat in a large circle. The circle kept growing as more people joined us throughout the session. We opened up by introducing ourselves and I found that most of the attendees were hearing with a minimal understanding of ALS (American Sign Language). I really enjoyed getting to know the large number of hearing people who attended the Deaf Track. When I talked with them I found that many of them were excited and curious about the Deaf community.

A handful of hearing married couples shared that they felt called by God to love and invest in the Deaf ministry and the Deaf community as a whole. I met a few girls who had taken as many years of ASL as possible at their high school or college. This was all very encouraging!

There were a few hearing people who expressed some uncertainty in how to approach Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. I wanted them to feel comfortable and confident as they approached our Deaf brothers and sisters so I thought of this analogy/comparison. When a hearing person meets a Deaf person they might be nervous thinking, “This is the first Deaf person I’ve ever met”. The Deaf person is thinking, “This is the 1 millionth hearing person I’ve ever met”! People laughed and there was a collective sigh of understanding.

I appreciate the help of the volunteer interpreters and other seasoned disciple interpreters as I was able to sit back and have a break from interpreting. I did make one exception and volunteered for the song Men Who Dream (I love interpreting this song!).

Orlando, Florida will be hosted the World Discipleship Summit in 2020. What an impactful time that will be! Let us pray together that many Deaf people from around the world will be able to attend. Fun Fact/Helpful Hint: If you saved 10 dollars each month starting this month, August 2016, you will have just under $500 dollars or you can save $30 each month and you will have just shy of $1,500 for the Summit. We can do this!

Thank you God for letting us share such a great time together!

All my love,
Katie Kessler

2016 Deaf Track

Interview with Fiorela Thibodeaux

Joe: Hi Fiorela, Who reach out to you and invite you to church?

Fiorela: It’s a bit of a long story. I grew up a devout Catholic and have always been a bible reader, but by the time I was in college I had left my inherited religion. In 2000 I was living and working in Peru, which is my country of origin. I was in such a deep darkness; I was going through depression, anxiety, struggling with eating disorders and prevalent loneliness.

At that time I had a co-worker named Vanessa. She always seemed joyful, full of energy and was loving. I noticed she seemed to spend every bit of her free time reading the Bible and her work ethic was extraordinary. Vanessa invite me to come to church and once I even went to an outdoor event with her, but it was not the right time for me. My self-righteousness would not allow me to join the group.

6 years later I was married and living in the U.S. after having done quite a bit of traveling, and yet, I found myself in an even deeper darkness. I became so fearful of condemnation and separation from God that I could barely sleep. I began a long and desperate search for God. I reached out to Vanessa again, who now lived in Spain, and asked for help. She contacted me with a couple of sisters in the Austin Christian Church. I went to the service and the rest is history.

Joe: Why did you become a disciple?

Fiorela: Soon after my first visit to the church, I asked a sister sitting next to me to study the Bible. I was so full of pride that I wanted to see if they could teach me something new. I did not know what I was getting myself into! The studies were specifically directed at me.

Despite the fact that I already knew most of the scriptures the sisters shared with me, I realized that I had never held myself accountable to Jesus’ standard. The most important thing that I had not realized was that I needed to be redeemed through baptism. At this point I was in such darkness that I was willing to surrender completely to God’s will. A few weeks later I got baptized! My fears slowly started to vanish and for the first time I found myself joyful, peaceful and full of life.

Joe: What are your strengths as a disciple?

Fiorela: I have been told by other sisters that I am a very relatable person. People tell me they connect with me easily because I tend to be vulnerable and express empathy. I have been asked for advice on many occasions and I greatly enjoy encouraging people. God has also gifted me with the ability to speak multiple languages. That also helps me to connect with others.

Joe: How did you learn ASL?

Fiorela: In 2012, my husband, Jay, began studying ASL. I did not appreciate it because I thought it was taking time away from his family. To our surprise, in 2014, our second baby was born deaf. Praise be to God!! He was preparing my husband two years before Liam was born. I deeply repented of being unsupportive of my husband’s initiative. Jay immediately signed me up for my first ASL class and now I am working towards becoming a trilingual interpreter.

Joe: Do you have a vision for the Deaf Ministry at the Austin Christian Church? Why?

Fiorela: Jay and I have a dream to host a Deaf bible talk in our home. Having a Deaf son, we have truly fallen in love with ASL and Deaf Culture and we want to share with our Deaf friends the gift of the Word of God.

Joe: What would you like to see in future Deaf Conference(s)?

Fiorela: Topic on Deaf Culture to include do’s and don’ts. How to reach out to a Deaf individual and Deaf ministries around the world.

Joe: What is your spiritual goals?

Fiorela: To be more discipline in my relationship with God. To grow in my understanding of His love and to do everything out of love.

Joe: What are your career goals?

Fiorela: Right at this moment I want to become a trilingual interpreter and work as an advocate for Deaf children. Eventually I would like to go back to my career path as an Environmental Engineer. It would be ideal to combine both careers somehow.

Joe: What are your favorite sports and hobbies?

Fiorela: My husband and I greatly enjoy travelling, mountaineering and scuba diving. We love learning languages. We also like to watch movies and hang out with friends.

Joe: Last but not least, what is your favorite scripture and why?

Fiorela: Jay and I were in Brazil during one of our many travel adventures. My worldly life was at its peak, but my spiritual life was in complete darkness. We were waiting in the middle of the street for public transportation when a taxi car, without a sign, stopped for us and offered to take us to the next town. We agreed because this kind of transportation was quite common. The driver happened to be a devote Christian and we engaged in a conversation about Jesus, the church and life. At the end of the journey he gave us his personal card. On the back of the card was this verse in Portuguese:

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.   Romans 8:38-39

It was just what I needed to hold onto. It was a little light to shine in my darkness. This was the verse I memorized and shared with the congregation right before I got baptized.

Fiorela Thibodeaux

Jay/Fiorela Thibodeaux family

Austin Christian Church

Sami Morin

In today’s world it seems to me that more and more people have lost or forgotten who we really are in God’s eyes. Many of us with disabilities feel that by having a disability the world often tells us that we are not good enough.

I believe in accepting who we are as individuals regardless of these disabilities. Whether deaf or hard of hearing, requiring the use of a wheelchair or having a learning disorder; we need to learn to accept ourselves because God has made us perfect. God has plans for each one of us and He wants to use us!

I was born with a disability and I am the sixth generation in my family to be hard of hearing. When I was growing up I struggled with my hearing but my family never figured out that I was having a hard time so I was raised oral. Growing up I was teased and bullied because I was in special education. I started hiding myself, my feelings and grew to not trust people. This led me down a dark path of harming myself.

When I reached high school my mom knew that I could not learn the typical languages that were offered, languages like Spanish, French, and Chinese, so she put me in American Sign Language (ASL). I started learning ASL my sophomore year and I fell in love with it! American Sign Language is a special language to me because it opened up a way for me to be able to express my ideas, feeling, thoughts and even my culture.

Before I was a disciple I struggled with loving myself; I felt different and not needed. I am blessed to have met Lydia Amend. Because of her I was able to study the bible and make a decision on January 25, 2013 to be baptized. In the bible I learned that God created us exactly as he wanted and we each have different talents that we can bring to this world.

Since being baptized into Christ I can still find myself struggling with letting people know the real me. I have a hard time sharing my emotions with the ones I care about. I am super grateful to have my best friend, Stephanie Dean, in my life. She is a blessing from God!

My favorite memories as a disciple are the times I am around Stephanie because she shows me that it’s okay to be different. She has helped me to start trusting people and I am learning to be myself. If I am tempted to hurt myself again I know that God is helping me overcome because of how He continually uses Stephanie in my life.

After becoming a disciple I started learning worship songs in Sign Language and if I’m struggling with something I can now grab my music, take a walk and sign. This helps me remember that God is in control. If I had never learned ASL I would never have found a way to finally be myself.

In Romans 12:6 Paul writes about how we all have different gifts and that we should use these gifts for God.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12:6b (NIV)

I know myself well enough to know I tend to look only at what I have done wrong instead of the gifts God has given to me. Reading has been a big struggle for me since I was in 2nd grade. I hated reading and hated that I could not remember the words to save my life. Even now I can get insecure with reading my bible because I feel like I am going to mess up and make a fool of myself. Sometimes I don’t read my bible because of these insecurities and I can then be led to believing the lies that Satan tells me.

As I continue growing in my relationship with God I keep seeing the other gifts he has put in my life. God has given me the gift of encouragement and I desire to help other people feel valuable. I know what it feels like to be discouraged by people which is why I strongly feel the need to encourage other sisters and brothers in this ministry.

I am always determined to find my family’s love language and make sure to lift them up when lies, sin or even hard days come their way. Everyone needs love, so I am always determined to love them with all my heart.

In my Colorado fellowship there isn’t a Deaf Ministry yet. I am so grateful that one by one my close friends are learning ASL which helps me stay connected in our ministry. I am grateful for my friend, Anne Laughlin, who is often by my side helping me. She is becoming a teacher for deaf children and I am grateful that she interprets for me so I can understand when people are talking to me. She often explains to others that they need to take me somewhere quiet so I can hear what they are saying.

My vision for the Deaf Ministry is to see it expand around the world. I would also like to start connecting to more deaf people because I am losing my signing skills if I’m not using them.

To wrap up my testimony I want to share a scripture that is dear to my heart.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings; in all ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

This scripture always helps me because when I am in the storm or being tempted I remember that God is there to help me, I only need to trust in Him.

I want everyone to know that no matter what people say about you, remember that in God’s eyes you are perfect, wonderful, needed and loved.



Alexis Wright

I became a disciple my freshman year of college at the University of Cincinnati. A brother named Jordan Bishop reached out to me on campus while walking around doing cold contact evangelism.

I would say my biggest challenge as a disciple is being emotionally connected. It is hard for me to understand my own emotions and many times I view them as weaknesses. Obviously that isn’t true since Jesus was a man who wept with others but was also joyful. Becoming more aware of my emotions and connecting to them is definitely something I’ve been going after. It is really difficult but amen for victory in Jesus!

My best memory as a disciple, aside from being baptized, was going on a prayer walk with one of my best friends. I think I had just gotten baptized and a bunch of sisters went out for a girl’s night to the Cheesecake Factory and there was a bit of a wait. My friend suggested we go on a prayer walk, so we did. We ended up getting lost and it began to rain. Most girls might have seen these circumstances as a negative thing, but being lost in the dark with a sister and just praying to God as it poured is one of my favorite memories to this day.

I have been learning ASL since I was a sophomore in high school. I took ASL simply because I didn’t want to take Spanish and I thought ASL would be a cool alternative; it blew my mind! I currently have finished all the ASL courses that the University of Cincinnati offers. My goal is to become an ASL interpreter and the reason for me is because I love the language and the culture. Every day I will get to learn so many new things because of the experiences of the job. Helping individuals and cultures connect is an amazing ability!

I would say my weakness as an interpreter is my level of experience and wisdom with the field. I haven’t exposed myself as much as I should’ve to the Deaf community and those experiences are important to just immerse yourself in it and learn from the people themselves. My last 2 years in the program I am going to look for more ways to get involved with the community and see what I can do to really fight for those opportunities.

My skill would probably be my native feel to ASL. Everyone always tells me that I look natural when I sign and it truly feels like that. It’s so fun to get creative and use the space around me like my own personal canvas to express what I’m trying to explain with this amazing language.

There have been many learning experiences that I’ve come across being in the Deaf community. A big one would be the cultural difference and how to become more understanding of it. As hearing people we can easily get offended by the bluntness of the Deaf culture, but I’ve had to learn to understand people’s hearts; to know about the cultural differences so that there is a smooth transition of information between cultures.

There are so many things I see God doing in the Deaf ministry and my largest dream is to see the Deaf and hearing ministries work together like a well-oiled machine. I want to see the hearing disciples look at the deaf disciples as simply their brothers and sisters and vice versa. I think that these actions of unconditional love, by attempting to bridge the communication gap and cultural differences, will help disciples build deeper relationships that will aid them in getting to Heaven!

My favorite scripture is:

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end”.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

It brings me so much peace to know that God is in control and that everything will be made beautiful in HIS perfect timing so I don’t need to try and figure out all the answers, God has me.


Alexis Wright

Who Am I?

I remember praying to God when I first got baptized in 1999 to use me a powerful way. That led me on a journey to changing my major from Education to being a Sign Language Interpreter. I didn’t know what God was doing back then but now when I look at it everything makes perfect sense. I needed to learn ASL because one day I would meet and marry my husband, I would start a Deaf Ministry with him and I would be used to bring souls to Him.

I thought God would use my talents of acting or writing as my main way to bringing souls to Him. He had other plans for me. I am going back to school now to finish my degree and become a teacher like I’ve wanted to but spiritually, my work is in the Deaf Ministry. Hopefully, my husband and I will go on to do great things for God and help open the lines of communication within our churches to deaf and hard-of-hearing people all over the world.

I write poetry, songs, plays, t.v shows, and movies. My favorite to write would be t.v. shows. I’ve directed, and performed two of my plays within our churches. I use to help lead the dance ministry. One of my favorite dance performances was recorded and is on you tube under “Spring into Worship dance”.  I’m excited to see the journey God will take me on with the gifts He has given me. At the end of the day I want to serve the Lord side by side with my husband.

Kiana Gonzalez

Hello fellow brothers and sisters! My name is Kiana Gonzalez and I’m a disciple from Jacksonville, Florida. I’ve been a disciple for almost two and a half years. I’m currently at the University of North Florida getting a dual degree in ASL/English interpretation and Spanish. My dream is to one day start a Deaf ministry in Florida. I don’t have any Deaf relatives or friends, so how did I get interested in Deaf ministry? Well, it is all part of my spiritual journey that started when I was a junior in high school.

When I started my junior year of high school, my mom and my step-dad started going to the Orlando Church of Christ and soon after my mom became a disciple. After my mom became a disciple, I started to study the Bible. During the school year, I took an ASL (American Sign Language) class, where a whole new world was opened up to me about Deaf culture and the beauty of ASL. I quickly became passionate for ASL, as well as for the Word of God. When I finished the Cross study, I suddenly realized that not many people take the time to learn ASL and share it with Deaf people. I knew I didn’t want to be like most people, I wanted to make an impact with my life. When I became a disciple (December 21, 2011) I started to think about how I could make my dream happen.

Once I started my senior year of high school, I researched universities in Florida that offered ASL/English interpretation as a major. That’s how I ended up here in Jacksonville; I turned down an opportunity to play collegiate softball and moved two and half hours away from home to pursue my dream of working with Deaf people. God has blessed my move to Jacksonville! I have been able to make an impact in the campus ministry where I am part of a student-lead leadership group, (we don’t have full-time ministers for campus ministry). God is continually training and transforming me to be more like Christ.

God has given me the gift of grace, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the opportunity to do the good works that He has set out for me long ago (Ephesians 2:10). One of my favorite scriptures is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” The only thing that can stop me from achieving my goals in myself. I strive to make a difference with the life I live because Christ has saved me from my sin; and this awesome, incredible news is worth sharing with EVERYONE. Nothing should stop us from sharing the gospel! I want to be a bridge in the language barrier with Deaf and hearing, English and Spanish speakers. My dream is to see people unified, despite language barriers. I know that I will achieve this goal; “If God is for [me], who can be against [me]?” (Roman 8:31.)