On January 10, 2023, one of Advancing Native Missions’ first native missionaries, Carmen Linder, arrived in heaven to thunderous applause. Through her obedience to God and determination, she pioneered a way for the deaf and helpless in Honduras to live a meaningful life in a hearing world. She was 77.
Her Lifeline – Jesus
Carmen was born in Honduras on February 25, 1946, into a Catholic family of nine siblings. She learned more about Jesus at a high school run by evangelicals but could not accept their rigid rules. Her surrender to Jesus came at a church in Montana while earning her B.A. in Business Administration. In 1977, while attending an Institute of Ministry at Christian Retreat in Florida, founded by Gerald Derstine, her eyes were opened to the power of God, preparing her for ministry. From then on, she lived an active life seeking God, sharing the Gospel, and seeing miracles occur in a ministry with her church. Prayer and listening for the voice of God became her practice.
She returned to Honduras, but a man she met at the Institute named Rodney followed her and proposed. They married and joined Derstine’s ministry in Florida. Carmen became Pastor Derstine’s assistant secretary and during a two-week vacation, she translated his book called The Kingdom of God Is at Hand into Spanish.
She traveled back to Honduras to get the book printed and informed her ministry associate about the transformational power the Institute was having in individual lives. The associate later visited Christian Retreat and was so impressed that she invited Derstine to come to Honduras and conduct his school there. Gerald accepted and told Carmen she would be his interpreter. Carmen was apprehensive about the role but discovered God never lacked the power to work through available people to glorify His name.
Interpreting for Derstine took her all over Latin America. She even interpreted for Aida Zacapa, then First Lady of Honduras, as they visited Israel during the Feast of Tabernacles.
A Struggle That Led to Success
One night in Guatemala, Carmen dreamed of a lady who came out of a dark cloud and handed her a baby. Carmen, unable to birth children of her own, was shocked that a woman would give away a child, but she heard God say in the dream, “Take her; she is your baby. I am giving her to you because I love you.”
Months later, Carmen’s mother called and said, “I have a baby girl for you. The Honduran mother wants to give her to an American couple.” While adoption papers were processed, Carmen’s mother kept baby Michelle. One day, Michelle became so ill she required hospitalization, where she mistakenly received an overdose of medication that destroyed her audio nerves. The resulting deafness went undetected until she was 18 months old. Desiring to help her daughter, Carmen enrolled in sign-language classes, but Rodney rebelled. He did not want to learn sign language or raise a deaf child. He left Carmen, and they later divorced. Despite this, Carmen believed God ordered and worked all situations for good. So she sought the Lord for a new infilling of power and grace to be a successful and loving single mom.
Carmen continued traveling with Pastor Derstine. One day, in a small village in Honduras, Carmen encountered her first deaf child. The child was trapped in silence and isolation. God stirred Carmen’s heart and said, “I want you to start a school for the deaf in Honduras.”
Carmen spent hours praying and arguing with God. She reminded Him she was not a special-ed teacher, did not know how to raise funds, and hated speaking in public. But God was unrelenting. Finally surrendering to His call, she sought strength and wisdom in solitude and with friends. God assured her He would provide everything needed. She sighed, “God, it’s Your project,” then diligently began researching what was already available in Honduras for those who could not hear.
What she discovered was shocking. The deaf population was classified alongside the mentally retarded and other outcasts. Parents were ashamed to be seen in public with their deaf children. There were no laws offering the deaf and disabled any assistance. No church, association, or vocational school existed for them.
Carmen was determined to remedy the situation. With perseverance and prayer, she gathered a board of directors. She then registered the school and ministry called His Love In Action as a non-profit in both the U.S. and Honduras.
A Call Takes Shape
The school opened on March 22, 1989, in a vacant house loaned to her for one year. A pastor sent her 30 deaf people seeking vocational training, and the Lord enlisted the only two people in the country who knew sign language for her first teachers. A board member donated furniture, and a woman from South Carolina contributed sewing machines and school supplies. Carmen herself acted as the school’s first vocational instructor.
After two years of struggle with rental facilities, Carmen was handed $67 by a woman who said, “This is seed money to start your permanent building fund.” This donation prompted the board to establish a building fund, despite the money sitting stagnant for years.
As she labored through those first years, she was grateful for her employment at Christian Retreat. Then God, who continually challenges His people to grow, asked her to leave her job and devote herself full-time to the deaf ministry. Pastor Derstine asked her to stay, but Carmen replied, “God told me to resign, and I have to obey His voice.”
She kept putting one foot in front of the other, and the Lord provided. Carmen devoted her energies, prayers, and character to proclaiming Jesus, exhibiting the power of the Holy Spirit, and making life better for the deaf community in Honduras.
Students in her day school learn to communicate, develop a skill or trade, and hear about Jesus. They also receive Bible training, dental care, uniforms, and hot lunches. Lives have been and continue to be transformed. One such life is Jorge’s. Completely mute, Jorge came to the school when he was eleven. A few weeks later he started talking and praying with such power that the students and staff began to weep. They said, “Jorge brings heaven down!”
Christian School Gives Deaf Hondurans a Voice
Advancing Native Missions opened its doors in 1992, and Carmen was one of the first missionaries to visit the ministry. She didn’t draw attention to herself, but convincingly presented her case of native missionaries reaching an unreached people group. When she described conditions in Honduras and the life of the deaf in that country, she gripped the staff’s attention.
The country had tremendous poverty and people living in fear of gangs and drug cartels. She continued, “Imagine a silence so encompassing that you exist in complete isolation. You can’t hear and you can’t communicate, not even with other deaf children. As a result, the deaf enter a world of prostitution, drug addiction, and malnutrition unless someone intervenes. You can help me intervene!” And ANM did. They connected Carmen to churches and promoted her unique ministry.
Carmen filled every newsletter with thanksgiving that she sent to ANM. One said, “I can truly say that, for so many years, you have been there for me and our students. Therefore, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your prayer on our behalf and your faithful financial support.”
The Building Fund
Meanwhile, the slow-growing building fund accumulated enough to purchase an enclosed and gated property in Tegucigalpa for an astonishingly low price in 2007. Carmen made do with the existing structure on this property for 12 years until it could be demolished, and a new ground floor facility constructed.
The new building was dedicated in March 2019, on the thirtieth anniversary of the ministry’s founding. A campaign in 2022 raised additional funds to complete the second floor. The construction was nearly half finished when God suddenly took Carmen to her heavenly home. Dedication of the finished facility is expected in late April. Meanwhile, the school continues operations under the supervision of the U.S. and Honduran boards, and nine paid Honduran staff and five volunteers.
His Love In Action was the first Christian school for the deaf in Honduras and became a model for others to follow. One graduate returned to his jungle home and began a school there. Another went to Honduras’s Northern Coast and started one in his hometown.
After seeing her work, an American missionary opened a school in Equatorial Guinea. And a pastor from the Philippines opened one in his country. Many students became principals, interpreters, teachers, barbers, carpenters, and other artisans. With God’s power and Carmen’s commitment, she taught the deaf to live.
Through Carmen’s advocacy, there is now a church for the deaf, an established Association for the Deaf, and laws making provision for the disabled in Honduras. She also helped compile the first Honduran sign-language book. During COVID, the school taught sign language via Zoom to hearing citizens all across the country so they could better serve the deaf community.
Carmen’s dedication to the thousands of Honduran young people who have gone through her program rivals Anne Sullivan’s dedication to Helen Keller. Anne gave Helen the tools to become what God had created her to be. Carmen did the same and more. She enabled deaf people to live meaningful lives in a hearing world. The result of her labors and the person she was will be remembered as a lasting legacy.
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