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August 5, 2004

Dakota Hills Deaf Church signs the word of God south of the river

From: Inver Grove Heights Sun Current, MN - Aug 5, 2004

By Erica Christoffer
Sun Newspapers
(Created 8/5/2004 3:34:43 PM)

Getting involved:

Dakota Hills Deaf Church meets at Mt. Olivet Assembly of God, 14201 Cedar Ave., Apple Valley. Sunday school begins at 9:30 a.m. and worship service is at 10:45 a.m. For more information, e-mail Les Lawer at

The word of God is in the palm of the Rev. Les Lawers hands as he preaches to the congregation at Dakota Hills Deaf Church in Apple Valley every Sunday.

Calling his work a heart to heart ministry, Lawer said, I know the Lord wanted me to be a pastor.

There are several local churches that offer interpreted Sunday services or deaf Bible classes, such as Hosanna! Church in Lakeville, Grace Church in Eden Prairie and Peace Reformed Church in Eagan. But Dakota Hills Deaf Church is one of only about six all-deaf churches in the Twin Cities.

With about 35 members, Dakota Hills meets in the old chapel in Mt. Olivet Assembly of God on the southwest corner of Cedar Avenue and 142nd Street. It has shared the church since April 1995. Originally, the congregation met at Childrens World in Eagan, beginning in 1992.

Lawer, a resident of Rosemount, and the members of Dakota Hills approached Mt. Olivet in an effort not only to gain space for worship, but for a partnership.

We were willing to work that out with them, said Carolyn Herigstad of Apple Valley.

Herigstad, who handles the finances at Mt. Olivet and has been a member of the church for 12 years, said the two-church partnership provides deaf families with hearing children and spouses a place to interact with other hearing churchgoers.

Dakota Hills and Mt. Olivet share a nursery, which is a benefit for them in learning, Herigstad said.

Children from both churches are also involved in Bible classes, youth group and holiday programs.

With 375 members, Mt. Olivets size allows more opportunities that members of Dakota Hills might not otherwise get.

The partnership benefits Mt. Olivets members as well.

It definitely makes people who are hearing more comfortable with people with are not hearing, Herigstad said.

Learning to communicate with people who use another language has influenced some Mt. Olivet members to take sign language classes.

Weve really enjoyed having them here, she said.

As the founder of Dakota Hills Deaf Church, Lawer brought years of experience. Raised in Portland, Oregon, Lawer married Charlotte in 1961 and they have had three children.

In 1972 the Lord touched my life, he said.

Lawer attended the Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo., and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in Bible in 1976. Then, in 1978, he became the first deaf ordained minister in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

Between 1991 and 2000, Lawer served as president of the National Deaf Culture Fellowship. He spent time traveling the country, visiting and preaching at deaf churches, conducting weeklong revivals and meeting both deaf and hearing pastors. He said both his love for God and love for people fueled his work.

During that time, word spread about Dakota Hills Deaf Church throughout the deaf community. Today, members are young and old, families and friends, deaf and hearing. Lawer still serves as head pastor with the assistance of Bev Hull. He puts in about 20 hours per week at Dakota Hills, in addition to his full-time job at the airport post office.

With more than 25 years of ministry under his belt, Lawer said that he eventually plans to retire, but not before his work is done.

Right now my goal is to train the deaf congregation to become spiritual leaders and set more home cells, Lawer said.

Home cells are small groups of people that meet in each others homes for Bible study and prayer.

The home cells reach the deaf people more effectively, Lawer said.

Currently, there are three local home cells involving Dakota Hills members. Lawer said he will visit the home cells to assist in study and give suggestions.

Also, my goal is to see more deaf churches in the south metro, Lawer said.

© 2004 Sun Newspapers