IM this article to a friend!

August 11, 2005

Plant City deaf woman joyful in the Lord

From: Florida Baptist Witness, FL - Aug 11, 2005

By Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez
Florida Baptist Convention

PLANT CITY (FBC)–The smile spread wide across Pennie Priest's face is an expression she is scarcely seen without and at times communicates more about God's love than the sign language she uses to speak to others.

The trademark smile is how Pennie is known in her home town of Plant City and the way she is remembered by classmates at her high school alma mater, the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.

For her newlywed husband, Chris Priest, Pennie's smile was what first opened his eyes to a hope in Jesus Christ.

"Within that smile there was always a light," said Chris Priest. "I didn't understand it at first but it was a little seed that sparked Christ and made me wonder and start asking questions about salvation."

Since becoming a Christian at a Florida Baptist Convention summer camp for deaf and hearing impaired persons in 1987, Pennie Priest has spent her life communicating the Gospel to all who will take the time to learn of her salvation.

The camp where she committed her life to Christ is one of the few summer camping events available to hearing-impaired youth that includes a spiritual message. For 12 years, funding from the Maguire State Mission Offering has helped support the continuation of the camp, making it affordable for hearing–impaired and deaf children to attend.

Providing the opportunity for young deaf persons to learn the concept of salvation and the Christian faith in a way they understand is vital, said Pennie Priest. "In the world today, many young deaf children aren't getting the teaching they need so much about Jesus."

As an advisor for deaf and hearing children with behavior problems at a Tampa school, Pennie Priest said she has observed that a student's lack of hearing forces them to rely heavily on what they see and to mimic what they visually absorb from society.

Still, a clear presentation of the Gospel is as important to those who have been told the story of Jesus as it is to the deaf who have never been exposed to the name of Jesus Christ at all, said Sandee Lewis, Pennie Priest's mother.

Although Pennie grew up in a Christian home, where her hearing parents openly shared with her about God and how to be saved, she did not come to know Jesus Christ personally until she was 11 years of age.

"I had explained to her many times how to be saved," said Lewis. "Unfortunately a lot of times when hearing people talk to the deaf, they aren't getting through."

Lewis added that she had sensed her daughter wanted to be a Christian, but could not clearly present to her that it took a personal decision to receive Christ. "I tried in all the ways I knew how, but I couldn't seem to help Pennie understand what she needed to do personally."

After hearing about the Florida Baptist deaf camp, Lewis and her husband, Donnie, arranged for their daughter to attend, hoping she might clearly understand how to become a Christian through the deaf camp's specialized methods.

"When she came home she was exuberant and I knew there was a change in her and that she now understood," said Donnie Lewis.

At age 28 Pennie Priest still exudes the same enthusiasm about her faith that she did that day 17 years earlier, and her joy leads many to ask why she is so happy.

"I tell them 'I have Jesus in my heart.' I always know that Jesus is right here beside me, even though I can't see him, I know he's there. He never leaves me and that's why I'm so happy," said Pennie Priest.

And while the camp helped her to understand the steps to salvation, the camp staff also nurtured her faith, encouraging her to share the Gospel with others and challenged her to pray for the spiritually lost.

It was how she learned that her role as a Christian is to be Christ's ambassador carrying Christ's hope to others—a lesson Don Otwell, Florida Baptist Convention deaf ministry consultant, said he believes many at deaf camp have learned.

"The individuals who attend our camp and make a decision for Christ often become leaders in our (deaf-oriented) churches at a later point in their lives," Otwell said. "These campers develop into leaders as they get older, mature in their faith and become involved in the ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention."

Last year, 111 students and counselors attended the camp. Of those, 40 decisions were made that included 26 professions of faith in Christ and seven rededications of Christian discipleship.

Other non profit organizations generally offer summer camping alternatives for the deaf, at little to no cost, said Otwell.

But without help from the Maguire State Mission Offering to offset the price of deaf camp, Otwell added, reaching people like Pennie Priest and developing them to reach others for Christ would not be possible.

Copyright © 2001-2005, Florida Baptist Witness, All rights reserved.