60 YEARS AND BEYOND
Given our current focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the importance of giving people direct access to God’s Word and the gospel in their own language, it’s providential that we as a church observe another meaningful milestone this month: the 60th Anniversary of the Deaf Ministry at First Baptist Church.
While the seed for this ministry was planted through Associate Pastor Bill Ligon’s exposure to Sign Language in seminary, our Deaf Ministry began in 1957 under the leadership of Pastor Harold Sanders. Dr. Sanders enlisted Reeves Dean, a gifted preacher, and his wife, Katherine, a skilled interpreter for the Deaf, to minister to the Deaf living within a 100-mile radius of Tallahassee. During their ministry, Reeves and Katherine saw more than 48 professions of faith. After the Deans moved away, Dan Long, himself a new Christian, soon became the Sunday School teacher and an ordained deacon. Because there were no trained interpreters, Dan Long trained Nelda Tedder in Sign Language. Nelda then went on to become a highly-skilled interpreter who taught Sign Language to others who became interpreters—both in our church and in our community.
During these past 60 years, the Deaf Ministry has been an integral part of First Baptist Church. Highlights include: Florida Baptist Conference of the Deaf (FBCD) established in 1959 at FBCTLH; monthly luncheons prepared by WMU Circles; Sign Language classes; weekend retreats at Lake Yale and Blue Springs; Signs of Praise Choir participation in the Singing Christmas Tree; ministry to Deaf children and youth; Southern Baptist Conference of the Deaf (SBCD) training at Glorietta and Ridgecrest; interpreter fellowships; our first Deaf pastor, Steven James, from 1991 to 1995 under Dr. Jim Chavis; Deaf worship in the chapel; baptisms; fellowships; interpreted Christmas musicals and Good Friday services; and more!
To help us mark this special anniversary, we have a full weekend of activities planned on October 14 and 15, including a guest preacher, John Wyble, who will preach in Sign Language during both worship services on October 15. John serves as a Deaf pastor and Deaf church planter in Virginia. John and his wife, Denise, have nine children and a foster daughter from Russia. We also expect to see some familiar faces return, including Steven James, who is currently serving with his wife, Kaori, as career missionaries for the Deaf Affinity with the International Mission Board.
Through many hills and valleys over the past six decades, one thing has remained the same: God’s faithfulness. God has used this unique ministry to form relationships and grow disciples who follow Jesus. No matter how circumstances may change and people may come and go, as we look to the future, we know that God will remain faithful and continue this good work He has started. And that’s something worth celebrating!
— Josh Hall
Register online for the 60th Anniversary Celebration now!