I will always remember a moment sitting on a couch in a small corner classroom in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. This memory is not one where time stops and I could tell you the color of every object in the room. Or one where I could replay the turn of events like a movie. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what time of day it was, but the feeling, the weight that seemed to hang in the room, is something that still moves me to this day.
To be fair, the great city of Matamoros holds a lot of heaviness on its own. A border town with a history of corruption, trafficking and violence, Matamoros is a place of hardship for many, but maybe most drastically for those who are Deaf. With the state of Tamaulipas behind on ratifying laws, the Deaf community in Matamoros faces widespread discrimination, neglect and abuse. Deaf individuals are not allowed access to public hospitals, and they have no legal protection from the state. Persons who are Deaf cannot testify in court, and when crimes are committed against them, no legal repercussions can or will be taken against the perpetrators. Because of this, many individuals who are Deaf are victims of trafficking, abuse or are brought into the service of the drug cartel.
As if that wasn’t enough, the culture’s take on deafness is one of misinformation, fear and shame. While children who are Deaf are sometimes allowed in public schools, they are unable to learn or participate because no measures are taken to teach in ways they can understand. It is often thought that deafness is a sign of punishment or demon possession, and many people with religious backgrounds believe any attempt to accommodate deafness is a lack of faith in the power of healing or an act of compliance with sin. Because of this, most families of Deaf individuals refuse to learn sign language.
It is in this darkness that a place called Con Mis Manos brings life and hope through the Gospel. Con Mis Manos, translated into English as “With My Hands,” is a deaf ministry led by Michelle and Chuy Zuniga, providing care, education, resources, housing and the love of Christ to the Deaf community and their families.
On a trip to visit Con Mis Manos in April of last year, I was overwhelmed by the kingdom work taking place and the stories I was privileged to hear. In that small back classroom-turned-studio for the day, we recorded the stories of some students and families of Con Mis Manos. Communication took place in three languages, and I was often moved by the love and vulnerability shared, even before the words were translated into my language.
I watched as Ivan relayed the struggles of his childhood, first experiencing true community at Con Mis Manos at age 7—a man who now teaches at Con Mis Manos and leads the first Deaf church in the state.
I observed Chuy, who began as a volunteer driver to help children get to school, encouraging and joking with Ivan, now as a mentor, teacher and father figure for many other students.
I followed the care in Adrianna’s tear-filled eyes as she spoke with love for her sister, Cynthia, and of her journey in learning sign language in order to talk with Cynthia in her native tongue.
I learned of the change Cynthia’s mom, Nereda, saw in her daughter through the Christ-centered care and communication provided for Cynthia in her first few months at Con Mis Manos.
I watched as Cynthia recounted a moment that had previously seemed unimaginable; A moment when she realized her mother and father had not simply learned her language enough to get by but had integrated it so deeply that while standing in the doorway of another room, she could see her parents communicating with one another using only sign language. I watched her glow with gratitude as she signed (loosely translated to English), “As I walked in, I had a conversation with my dad where I understood everything he and my mom were saying, and they understood me.”
And I listened as Michelle translated through laughter and tears. A woman who said yes to Jesus 20 years ago as a young, single, recent college grad to move to a new place, not knowing the city’s language or the language of the students she would be teaching. A woman who found out halfway through her three-month internship that the people she was preparing the way for weren’t coming, and a woman who, once again, stepped out in faith and said yes to staying.
So, as I sat in that room, I felt the heaviness of the world, but I was also overwhelmed by another weight. The same God who had been working, guiding, healing and weaving everything together for the past 20 years, plus thousands before that, was permeating the room with his presence. In a place where I was overwhelmed by the darkness these students face, I listened to story after story of a God who is never overwhelmed, but always present, always empowering, always healing, and always speaking in all languages. And I praised God for faithful and humble friends like Michelle, Chuy and their team who, through exhaustion and danger, relentlessly push back the darkness, inch by inch.
Post written by KaLisa Veer
Chuy & Michelle Zuniga
Con Mis Manos is a ministry that reaches out to the Deaf in Matamoros, Mexico. Chuy & Michelle Zuniga, founders and leaders of Con Mis Manos, provide a safe place where the deaf can live, learn valuable skills and experience the family of Christ.
Hear the stories mentioned in this piece and more by listening to our Impact Ministry Podcast.
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