by Hannah Packard
‘‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’’
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, ‘‘How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!’’ —Romans 10:13–15, NLT
Danny knew he was called to be a pastor. He had worked in youth ministry for a long time, eventually serving as the district youth director in the Puerto Rico District. He knew God had called him as a pastor— but he didn’t expect to be a church planter.
In May 2019, at a conference in the Puerto Rico District called Evangelium, Pastor Danny began talking with Iván Martí, assistant vice president for Church Ministries, about church planting. Curious, Pastor Danny decided to take the Church Multiplication Office’s church-planting assessment. After reviewing his results, Iván and Pastor Victor Monroig, the district’s director of multiplication, encouraged him to consider becoming a church planter. Encouraged by this and beginning to realize what God was calling him to, in January 2020, Danny got involved with a pastoral group at ACyM Camuy, a church led by Pastor Domingo Perez-Badillo.
As Pastor Danny and his wife, Rebeca, began thinking about where to plant, their attention was drawn to Isabela, a town on the northwest coast of the island. “I remember praying in the public plaza for the town,” Pastor Danny says. “We knew something was going on. We knew that God was giving us love for this town and community.”
Unbeknownst to Danny, God had also been laying church planting, and Isabela in particular, on the hearts of Pastor Domingo and District Superintendent Javier Gomez. When they began talking, they knew the Spirit was doing something; it wasn’t a coincidence. God had His eyes on Isabela.
At that point, Pastor Danny began the preparation process for planting a church in Isabela. “The first three months, we were just praying,” he says. In the next three to four months, the district helped Danny do research and find grants. The Alliance is passionate about church planters never going alone. “I am really living it. I have never felt alone,” Pastor Danny says. “I’ve felt very cared for. So, I don’t feel tired. I’m not regretting planting.”
During the next phase, Pastor Danny began researching Isabela and the surrounding region—churches in the area, demographics, locations—as well as establishing the group that would go with his family to Isabela as a planting team. Amid this period of research, Danny discovered that in the region around Isabela, there are more than 2,300 Deaf people.
“When we saw this number, it was a game changer on the possibilities of serving the community. We knew God was taking us to Isabela already, so now the question was, ‘How do we start?’” An idea began to take shape in his mind. “If you want to receive people from the Deaf community, the church has to be prepared, right? To communicate, to speak with them when they come.”
ACM Isabela launched in March 2022 with 16 people, including Pastor Danny, Rebeca, and their two girls. From the start, the church has sought to become deeply rooted in the community. After praying and considering, Pastor Danny decided that the church would hold American Sign Language (ASL) classes, both for the congregants and the community to learn how to sign. “We wanted to assist the community, to bless them. We want to love them,” Danny says.
Reflecting on that early season, Pastor Danny shares, “I remember someone said to me, ‘Pastor, you’re dreaming too fast. You’re dreaming too big. Don’t you think you should reconsider?’ And I understand his point. But if God wants us to run, we’ll run, not knowing what’s going to happen. We often preach on living by faith, but it’s not at that moment that you really have to live by faith.”
According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there are approximately 72 million Deaf people globally. It is reported that only 2 percent have a personal relationship with Jesus. A complete ASL translation of the Bible was only recently finished in 2020, and it is the first of its kind. In the early 2000s, the Sordos de Puerto Rico, Inc., (the Puerto Rico Deaf Association) estimated that 80,000 Puerto Ricans are fully deaf, while a further 260,000 are hard of hearing. Knowing that these numbers may have increased in the last two decades and that Puerto Rico is an island of only 3,515 square miles and just over 3.2 million people, these numbers are significant.
To hold the ASL classes, Pastor Danny needed to find a teacher. He called several sign language interpreters on the island, but they didn’t seem to get what he wanted. “The fifth interpreter I called was Xochitl,” Pastor Danny says. “Our church is praying for a nearby city, Aguadilla. We want to plant and keep extending the Kingdom, so in five, six, eight years, we pray to have at least a small group in Aguadilla. Well, this interpreter, Xochitl, she is from Aguadilla.” As Danny spoke with Xochitl, explaining what he hoped for the classes, she started to cry. Pastor Danny wondered what he’d said wrong, but after a couple of minutes, she said, “Pastor, I’ve been wanting this, but I didn’t know how to start. Let me talk to my husband and think about this.”
After three days, Pastor Danny and Xochitl spoke on the phone, and she agreed to do the project. She got emotional again on the phone as she began to share her story with Pastor Danny. Xochitl had been very hurt by the church in the past and had stopped attending any church for several years. In the meantime, she met her husband, Luis, who is Deaf, and they started having children. “But she had the seed of the gospel in her heart,” Pastor Danny says. “She started wanting to retry life in the church.”
However, when Xochitl and Luis tried visiting churches together, they found it difficult to connect. She would offer to translate so that Luis would be included, at least to some extent, but churches would reject her offer because she wasn’t a leader.
When the hunger for God had been stirred in her heart again, Xochitl had prayed, “God, I want you to find me.” For her, the project with ACM Isabela was God finding her and calling her back home. Before the class started, she visited ACM Isabela, and she felt loved. The next week, she came back with her husband. Then they brought their children. “Now they are serving and are part of the church community. Rather than just providing for a need, we’re walking alongside them. That has been a game changer for Luis and their family,” Pastor Danny says. The church wasn’t very good at signing at the beginning, but Luis would still say, “This is the church I want to be at.” Now there are three more Deaf people regularly visiting ACM Isabela! God is at work.
The church and community members completed their beginner level ASL class in April this year and started the intermediate level in mid-August. In January 2024, they plan to tackle the advanced level course. “Half the class is from the church and half is from the community. So, we already have fruit from the classes! A military veteran named Albert is in the class. He is a new believer and comes to our church,” Pastor Danny says. “I think God is preparing the way for us to reach into other cities with the gospel. There are many people to reach.”
Someone to Tell Them
As I heard Pastor Danny share ACM Isabela’s story, I was touched by the love his church desires to show their community. They seem to be a people who are outdoing each other in showing honor to those around them, who are using their liberty in Christ to serve their neighbor, for “the entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14).
Pastor Danny was encouraged by Romans 10:13–15 to hold ASL classes for his church. Rightly so. Globally, the Deaf community lacks gospel access and resources. And it’s deeper than just needing the gospel presented to them in their heart language, which for the vast majority of Deaf people is a signed language. For any person, language barriers can be significant and painful when trying to find a church to call home. But what if you physically can’t communicate in the language of the majority culture? For ACM Isabela, the answer is simple—and I hope that many more churches reach that same conclusion and catch that same Holy- Spirit fire. May we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Would You Pray for ACM Isabela?
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” —Deuteronomy 31:8
- for their intermediate ASL class, held on Thursday nights, and for the upcoming advanced ASL class beginning in January 2024
- that God will raise up leaders and disciplemakers in the church
- that God will continue helping them build bridges into their community
- that they will soon have their own rented space
- for the Deaf community in Puerto Rico, that those who have not will soon be able to see the gospel in their heart language
- that God will continue multiplying gospel presence and disciples across Puerto Rico!
Watch the video story of ACM Isabela here.
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