God’s love in vast supply at Holy Land Institute for the Deaf
by Randy Heyn-Lamb
Doni and Randy Heyn-Lamb have made a half dozen trips to the eastern Mediterranean over the past 20 years and returned in November and December, 2019, to visit friends and note the changes since their last visit.
With introductions from AFEDJ Executive Director John Lent they were able to include several institutions of the Diocese of Jerusalem on their itinerary. Here Randy’s take on their visit to the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt, Jordan.
Our last day dawned clear and cold. Unlike Jericho, which lies in the warmer Jordan River valley, our taxi driver from the previous night had an uphill drive all the way to the one hilltop hotel in Salt. So a brisk morning greeted us in the Jordanian hill country northwest of Amman.
Our purpose for visiting Salt, beside having a closer starting point for our transfer to the international airport, was to visit the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, or HLID. On our last trip to Jordan, our visit was cancelled after Doni experienced a mild case of heat stroke. That was late June. No chance that heat was going to interfere on this chilly morning.
The HLID is one of the health and healing ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Located on the grounds of what had been part of the English Hospital from British Mandate days, HLID currently educates and prepares some 100 resident deaf and a dozen or so deaf-blind children for life in a world where the ability to hear and see are taken for granted.
Our guide for the morning and, as it turned out, some of the afternoon, was the Rev. Wadie Far. Fr. Wadie is a young Jordanian priest, a few years out from Virginia Theological Seminary. A couple years in to parish life, the Archbishop asked if he would consider serving as chaplain for the Institute. After taking a quick course in Arabic sign language, he took up chaplaincy duties doubling as director of the boarding program, which accounts for most of the students. He also serves the small Episcopal parish in Salt.
Greeting us warmly, he took us to the chapel and gave us the history of HLID. Throughout the campus we would see plaques and framed proclamations from the Institute’s 50th Anniversary celebration five years ago. What caught our eye in the chapel was a small painting of the patriarch, Abraham, on his way to the mountain where he would be tested to sacrifice his son. Of course, in the Hebrew Torah, the son to be sacrificed is his younger son, Isaac. In the Koranic version, it is his firstborn, Ishmael. In the chapel’s painting, you see both sons depicted, with Abraham holding the smaller boy’s hand while his other hand rests on the taller boy’s shoulder. Fr. Wadie wanted us and his charges to understand that all Abraham’s children are accepted and loved.
We had an ambitious schedule to complete before lunch so we soon set out for some of the workshops where older children could learn vocational skills that might translate into employment. I was surprised and pleased to walk in to the woodshop to find three teen girls, dressed in shop smocks, doing some fine sanding and fitting window glass into some small cabinets. We quickly exhausted the few signs Fr. Wadie had taught us. They giggled and signed among themselves, and we retreated to the welding class.
Fr. Wadie told us they used to offer classes in automotive mechanics. The previous instructor had retired, however, and they were having difficulty finding someone with auto repair experience, who knew or was willing to learn Arabic sign language, was a good and patient teacher, and willing to work for what they can pay. You can see the challenge.
Fr. Wadie next took us into the clinical areas of the Institute. We passed audiology testing rooms and met the man, an HLID graduate, who fits and makes the hearing aids for those with residual hearing. Because children’s ears grow as they do, a child might need 4, 5, or even more molds before reaching adulthood.
In the classrooms we were greeted by excited students, happy for the diversion of visitors. No where was this joy more evident than in the small classroom where we met two of the deaf blind children. Their hands eagerly grasped ours, judging our size and age by our fingers and palms, noting we were married by our rings. Their hands crawled to our faces as they excitedly described my beard and balding scalp to their teachers. Our names were signed onto their palms and thus we were introduced. I wish I could show you pictures of the kids. Because of privacy rules, we refrained. I can say you can find some parent-approved photos by clicking here or on the image below.
I have to take a moment to say how impressed we were by the teaching staff. They rank among the most caring and devoted of any that I have encountered. Consistently focused on their young charges, they appeared to seize any opportunity to teach, encourage, and show love. Several are former students of the HLID program and have gone on to complete university and graduate work before returning to teach.
This was what also impressed me. Not only were the staff compassionate, they were experts at what they do. That isn’t just my uninformed opinion. The Jordanian government has recognized HLID for its expertise as the top national program for the deaf. HLID staff routinely go out to test infants and school children and are asked to hold training programs for police and other civil servants.
By now it was lunchtime. As we made our way to the cafeteria, we saw older children paired with younger ones. Deaf students assisting the deaf blind negotiate the stairs and find seats. This mentoring was framed not as a task, but as an honor, given to students who demonstrated the maturity and caring to serve as a mentor.
After a brief prayer led from the front we were served a simple but tasty vegetarian meal. We asked Fr. Wadie about the non-sectarian prayer and the student body, which this year is 100% Muslim. Fr. Wadie confirmed that proselytizing is not permitted by the Jordanian government, but showing the love of God is. He then went on to quote St. Francis who reportedly told his disciples to “preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
After lunch we knew we needed to let Fr. Wadie return to his duties. He had been generous with his time. But we had one more stop to make. As we had toured the workshops, we had visited one devoted to domestic arts. In addition to cooking skills, students could make tile art and learn to sew and weave. And that workshop opened onto a gift shop where their handiwork could be purchased. Cards and ornaments, from mugs to rugs; we spent the next hour looking for treasures and deciding how we might get them safely home. Typical tourists. But we will not soon forget our time among the deaf students of HLID.
And, inshallah, we will return.