Rev. Josephat Mulongo, 46, has worked in different branches of the Immanuel Church for the Deaf for the last 24 years. He is currently the senior pastor at the Nairobi branch, which is located in the central business district. He is also the Africa representative for the church’s international deaf missions ministry. His wife Patricia, 39, formerly an accountant, also works at the same church with deaf women, youth, and children. Married for 14 years, they narrate to EDNA GICOVI a tale of faith, hope and resilience.
I was very curious when I received a call from a sign language translator called Elizabeth requesting me to feature a deaf couple on the Marriages That Last column. Even before meeting them, I was convinced theirs would be a remarkable story. About a month later, we met at their home in Nairobi’s Donholm Estate and Elizabeth was at hand to do the translation.
Before climbing up the stairs to their flat, we pass through Immanuel Designs, a tailoring shop on the ground floor, owned by the couple. They stop to introduce me to Mary the tailor who is also deaf. After the couple is introduced to me, Patricia points to the top part of her ear using her thumb and Elizabeth explains to me this is to indicate that the piercing on my right ear is what she will recognise me by.
The couple’s son, Jotham, 10, greets me shyly with a limp handshake when we finally reach their house on the third floor. Their oldest child, Esther, 12, is away in boarding school. There is some playful banter and laughter between the couple, their son and Elizabeth, which makes me wish I knew sign language so I could join in. Elizabeth is, however, gracious enough to let me know what is being said most of the time.
Prayers and dreams
Patricia can read lips, they tell me as we start the interview. She is from Mombasa where the couple met. She became deaf at the age of 13. She is not sure what caused her deafness but says she remembers a loud noise before her hearing disappeared. Having lived and worked among a hearing community for so long, she did not know much about the deaf until she started working with an association for the deaf in Mombasa as an accountant in the late 90s. The association was affiliated with the Immanuel Church for the Deaf where Josephat regularly attended church service and sometimes preached there. He was a student of theology at the Pwani Bible Institute at the time.
“Before I went to Bible College, I was in a confusing relationship that seemed not to have direction. I ended up giving up on it and forgot about marriage. I said that I would live alone until I die. For the first two years of college I never dated,” says Josephat.
He remembers during a pastoral ethics class his lecturer mentioning that it was good for a pastor to be married. This got him thinking about his own life and a subject he had put on the back burner. “I prayed and asked God for three things in my future wife. I wanted her to be deaf like me and a Christian who was deeply rooted in the word of God. I also wanted a person who would love and accept the deaf and help me in my ministry. God answered my prayer through Patricia,” he says.
Patricia was Catholic and on Sundays would attend a Catholic church then later in the afternoon go to worship at Immanuel Church for the Deaf. When Josephat learnt she was Catholic he started talking to her about the Protestant faith, which she eventually switched to. “I wanted her to be strong in her faith and be able to spread the word to other deaf people,” he says.
Patricia recalls sending Josephat a Christmas card the year she met him preaching at the Immanuel Church. “I felt I needed to give my pastor a gift. I really did not mean anything more than that,” she says.
“I had never asked her name so I didn’t know who Patricia was, but nevertheless I acknowledged the card and thanked the sender,” says Josephat.
When he finally learned who Patricia was, Josephat recalls constantly thinking about her and praying that God would reveal what he wanted him to do. He was afraid to ask her for a relationship incase she refused to be involved with her pastor.
“After three months of prayer, I felt confident enough to send her a note asking her to meet me after Sunday service the following week,” Josephat explains how he approached Patricia.
“We were in the same bus when he passed a note to me before alighting. My heart started beating fast wondering what message my pastor would put on paper instead of telling me. I was worried that I had done something wrong and that was why he wanted to meet with me. I obliged and met him at the car park after the service,” says Patricia.
Patricia also recalls having several weird dreams before this meeting where Josephat and her parents were constant characters. Some of these dreams were about marriage, but she didn’t give much thought to them until this request for a meeting came. Josephat was forthright when they met and he expressed his feelings towards Patricia, who in turn shared her dreams with him. They both agreed that perhaps God had plans for both of them but they gave each other time to think about starting a relationship.
“I didn’t think I could marry a deaf person. When I was younger, I knew of a deaf person from my hometown married with children and was never able to hear when the children played or fought. He only saw the blood after everything had already happened. I was scared of marrying a deaf man like me and the prospect of bringing up children in a silent world. But after much thought and prayer, I accepted to start a relationship with Josephat,” recalls Patricia.
“We went on many dates over the three years we courted and talked about our future together while sharing our deep thoughts and feelings. We started planning for our wedding immediately after I finished Bible College in November 2000,” says Josephat.
Josephat says his parents had initial misgivings about him marrying a fellow deaf person. “They wondered how we would be able to hear our children cry or someone knocking on the door if we were both deaf,” he says. They eventually came around after meeting Patricia. Josephat and Patricia tied the knot on November 11, 2000.
Having finished Bible College that same year, Josephat did not have a full time job and although Patricia was working, her salary was barely enough to sustain them both. “We lived from hand to mouth, so to speak, but we soldiered on. We decided not to have a child in the first year of our marriage because we were not financially stable,” Josephat says.
“My world changed after marrying Patricia. I loved her so much and wanted to become a responsible man who was supportive and protective of his wife,” says Josephat. They say they really enjoyed their time together as newlyweds, getting to know each other and helping and supporting each other in every way. The pre-marital counseling they had received before their marriage came in handy as it helped them communicate positively and work through their differences amicably.
“One of the promises we made to each other after entering the marriage union is that we shall always stick together, no matter what. We appreciate that disagreements are normal in any relationship and are always guided by the Bible and prayers in resolving any misunderstandings. We have learnt to say sorry and thank you and because of this, the warmth in our marriage has continued to increase,” says Patricia.
On raising hearing children
The couple’s two children do not have hearing impairment. Patricia says that communication with her children was her biggest challenge when they were toddlers. Many times, she wouldn’t know when they were unwell, and when she took them to hospital, she had another challenge of communicating with the doctors and nurses. “Sometimes I would communicate through writing but the staff at the hospital did not have the time to write back and forth when they had so many other patients to attend to. It was a big challenge but we thank God for seeing us through,” she says.
“Our first child started using sign language from an early age and most people thought she was deaf because we brought her up using sign language. That was the only way she could communicate in the early days and even when she learnt to speak she often refused to talk to people. She picked up normal language after joining kindergarten at the age two and a half. It was the same for our second child,” explains Patricia. She also adds they slept with the babies when they were young so they could know when they cried or needed to be attended to.
Both children are adept at sign language and lip reading and communicate very well with their parents. “They don’t talk orally when we’re in the house. They have grown up using sign language and they also love writing. That’s why you can see all the writings on the wall in our house,” says Josephat. He adds that they are grateful to have children who are obedient and well adjusted.
Patricia adds that though their children love to interact with the deaf community, they encourage them to speak to and interact with everyone. They also take them to their rural home over school holidays so they can learn from their grandparents and other relatives.
Support and encouragement
Josephat and Patricia sustain their intimacy by doing things together and maintaining a positive outlook and attitude towards life and each other. They are in agreement that it is of utmost importance for a couple to know each other sufficiently before making the decision to tie the knot. “Do not rush things. Give the relationship time before getting married in order to build a strong foundation for your marriage,” says Patricia.
Josephat feels that parents should give children, who have a disability or who want to marry someone with a disability, freedom to choose who they want to marry. “Our marriage has worked and such marriages can work if both partners understand and are committed to one another,” he says. Patricia adds that apart from this freedom, the couple will need their parents’ support and encouragement.
In conclusion, Josephat says that parents with special needs children should instill confidence in them and ensure they do not feel ashamed of themselves or their disability. “Taking them to school helps them gain confidence. Let them interact with children their age. My mother was confident enough to take me to school and not keep me at home. After I became deaf in standard two, she took me to a school for the deaf. She encouraged and helped me. The people who saw her struggle to bring me up with confidence are shocked that today I have built a house for her,” he says.