What Can a Deaf Man Do?

Vernon Miller with two of his first students.

W. Vernon Miller was born deaf to hearing parents in December 1932. He did not learn sign language until the age of eighteen when he enrolled at Gallaudet University, a school for the Deaf in Washington DC.

One Sunday, Vernon heard a strong missionary challenge. He struggled all night about surrendering his life. The next morning, he appeared at his pastor’s door, with a packed suitcase! His pastor marveled at Vernon’s commitment but wondered what kind of missionary a deaf man could be.

In 1968, Vernon arrived in Peru as a missionary serving with Baptist International Missions, Inc. Then, as today in many foreign countries, the Deaf were isolated, ignored, and uneducated. They lived and died with little or no hope of hearing the Gospel. The Deaf were usually hidden away by their families because of a Catholic belief that any physical defect was a judgment from God. It took several years for Vernon to find deaf people whom he could serve. Finally, he located a few deaf children. They knew no sign language, nor could they read or write in any language. Therefore, Vernon began a small school for deaf children in the village of Chosica. The children were first taught sign language. Later, primary school subjects were introduced. Woodworking and other manual trades were added. Amador, a Peruvian national, was sent from his local church to assist Vernon. When Vernon married Velma Carlsberg, a deaf widow, she discipled ladies and became a mother figure to the children.

After a radio announcement of a school dedicated to the education of the Deaf, many families brought their deaf children. The locale in use was too small, so the work was moved to a slum area of Lima called El Salvador, where a nice piece of reasonably priced land was obtained.
Vernon named the flourishing work Efata, meaning “be opened” from the account of Jesus healing a deaf man. In time, a church was started. The school expanded, and a home for deaf children was established. Eventually, higher training was offered to prepare deaf young people as pastors and pastor’s wives to go from and to the deaf community. From this foundation, deaf couples have gone throughout Peru, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries to establish deaf churches.

Vernon and Velma retired in 2000. Vernon passed into the presence of his Savior six years later. The work today thrives under the leadership of Missionary Joe Kotvas.

Vernon Miller is recognized as the person who brought sign language to the Deaf of Peru, bringing them not only out of the shadows of society but also into the light of the Gospel.

Winter 2023-24