RIVERVIEW – Charles “Chas” Wirick went through nearly two decades of life not understanding why he was deaf.
“I was frustrated,” the now 28-year-old said.
Then he had a revelation: “I was born deaf because God needed somebody.”
And that, he said, changed everything.
His mother, Kim Wirick, recalled when it happened: “He came home – I think he was 19 – and he told me, ‘I know why I’m deaf. God needed someone to help the deaf around the world. He needed somebody on the inside.’ ”
The pair recently recalled that turning point during an interview at their Apollo Beach home, with Kim using sign language to facilitate.
For nearly a decade, Chas has been working toward becoming a pioneer in deaf missionary work, and he recently felt God calling him to Africa. At least two churches in the Florida Conference, South Shore UMC, Riverview, and First UMC, Lakeland, are supporting his efforts, along with Lovers Lane UMC in the North Texas Conference.
It has been a gradual process, and sometimes difficult and painful, but now his goal is in sight: Next summer he will travel to Kenya on a three-month mission trip. While there, he’ll stay in a dorm at a deaf school in Theraka, Kenya. He’ll also attend the 3rd Global Methodist Mission Conference of the Deaf, a gathering that is expected to bring together about 300 deaf people from the Wesleyan family of churches, including United Methodist, Methodist and Wesleyan.
His long-term goal is to live and work as a United Methodist missionary in Kenya and perhaps in other countries after that.
Wirick’s primary aim next summer is to learn about the culture in Kenya. But he also expects to be busy teaching school-age children and helping people develop bio-farming techniques he learned from Servants in Faith and Technology (SIFAT), a training program in Lineville, Ala., that seeks to share God’s love in practical ways, through service, education and personal involvement.
Wirick also plans to construct stoves that burn fuel slowly and safely to provide heat for longer periods. And he’ll build toilets that are safe to use because they are not connected to the system providing water for drinking and bathing.
He knows that life in Kenya will be radically different from the comforts he enjoys in the home he shares with his family. But that doesn’t dim his enthusiasm.
“I feel like God’s calling me to become a missionary because I was born deaf,” said Wirick, who was certified as a deaf lay speaker in Dallas, Texas.
“A lot of deaf people around the country [Kenya] are dying because they don’t have hearing people support at all. They need skills for their life cycle, so they can support themselves,” he said.
He was in SIFAT training when he heard that 500 deaf people were found living in a slum in Nairobi, without help from anyone.
“I felt like God was saying, “OK, there you go.’”
Wirick is attending community college this summer and expects to finish up his degree in deaf studies at the University of South Florida in about two years. He needs to raise about $4,500 to make his first Kenya mission trip, and he’s begun working toward that goal.
Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth, executive pastor and deaf ministry pastor at Lovers Lane, serves on the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries and was instrumental in getting Wirick a scholarship to attend the SIFAT program. He is also working with the Methodist Church in Kenya and specifically the Kaaga Methodist Church in Meru to secure a visa that will allow Wirick to serve as a long-term missionary there.
Kathy Bryson, SIFAT’s international training director, said Wirick was the first deaf person to complete the intensive two-week SIFAT program and probably taught others as much as he learned by sharing what it means to be excluded from daily routines because of a disability.
“He was able to bring a unique perspective that doesn’t often get heard,” she said. “He was just a treasure to have.”
Hudspeth said the estimated 7,000 hearing-impaired people in Kenya generally face more discrimination and exclusion than those in the U.S. He predicted Wirick’s enthusiasm and achievements will be as valuable as the training he will provide.
“When someone like Chas comes in and teaches deaf people how to improve their lives, that would be a paradigm shift for hearing people,” Hudspeth said, adding that Wirick has another important gift.
“He understands the Wesleyan theology that God is love, and he wants deaf people to know that God is love.”
Wirick said many deaf people know Bible scriptures but don’t feel an emotional connection to God because they feel like they are being judged rather than welcomed and included in church activities.
“God is showing me that I need to show God’s love first,” he said.
Kathi Sheehan, director of discipleship and pastoral care at South Shore UMC, said she’s known Wirick for about six years.
“He is an example of a true disciple – one who is willing to honor God’s calling on his life – despite all of the challenges he has faced. To me, that says a lot about his character,” Sheehan said.
Anyone wanting more information about Wirick’s mission to Kenya may contact Sheehan at (813) 677-9482 or Kathi@southshoreumc.com.