Was blind but now I read

February 14, 2012 08:54 AM

Walk into a Lutheran church and the odds are pretty good that you’ll find a group of women gathering regularly, wielding knitting needles, crochet hooks, or sewing machines. The Golden Stitchers. The Knitwits. The Loopy Ladies. These women are turning out quilts, blankets, layettes, and prayer shawls by the dozen to be given to the hurting close to home or to the impoverished oceans away.


The odds are less likely that you’ll walk into a parish and find a group of women feeding metal plates through a special machine that creates pages for Braille books—but they do exist. Since 1964, Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Mineola has maintained a Braille ministry. It attracts men and women on Wednesday mornings and afternoons, but there’s no yarn in sight.


The volunteers who meet weekly in Mineola are known as "Workstation #26" to Lutheran Braille Workers, a national organization that provides Christian material in more than 30 languages to visually impaired people in more than 120 countries. When the volunteers gather, they take special paper, hole punch it, number it, encase the pages in metal plates, and run the plates through a machine that punches the dots. Numbering the pages is critical since they can’t read the Braille. The pages are then collated, inserted in binders, and shipped off to individuals or institutions around the world. At Our Saviour, the books produced are the first and second volumes of Basics of Christianity. Over 50 books are completed each month.


Over in New City, a group of women at St. Paul Lutheran Church make up Lutheran Braille Workers' Workstation #43. The ministry began in 1968 as an evening activity for women and men. These days, there are 10 dedicated women that meet every Wednesday morning to churn out five books a week. Upon arrival, they break into an assembly line to produce 88-page Braille versions of Galatians and Philemon. "It’s quite a project," says coordinator Ruth Cemeno as she explains how everyone has a role—from hole-punching to quality control to preparing the books for shipping. "We’re happy to do it and we have a lot of fun doing it."


Coordinators work with Lutheran Braille Workers in California to get the special paper, the binders, the mailing material, and address labels. When the books are complete, they are shipped—for free—to places like India, Malawi, or Nigeria, as well as locations in the United States. It’s a self-sustaining ministry: any contributions received are sent to California, and in return the workstation benefits from receiving all the necessary materials to produce the books.


"I always felt it was a worthwhile cause," says Doris Gettler, coordinator at Our Saviour, noting the letters of thanks from servicemen, grammar schools, fellowship groups, and those who are finally able to "touch" the promises of God themselves. Cemeno adds, "It’s a wonderful task to teach the blind and the visually impaired about Jesus Christ." It’s not only blind people who are touched: at St. Paul, little ones from the congregation’s preschool frequently visit to learn about the process and feel the Braille for themselves!