Not by Sight: Blindness Awareness

Most people think of their washing machine as just a household necessity for, well, washing clothes. And anyone old enough to remember a wringer-style washing machine knows that, compared to today’s electronic marvels, a wringer washer is a lot of work. But for Michigan farm wife Mildred Whitney, a wringer washing machine was something she could use for the Lord.

During the early 1950s, her machine served as the printing press for the first Braille copies of The Pentecostal Digest, a compilation of articles from The Pentecostal Evangel and other publications. Mrs. Whitney hand-punched a master copy, waterproofed it with shellac, and then used the wringer to imprint soaked sheets of paper.

“We lived in a rural area, without modern conveniences or running water,” recalls Mrs. Whitney’s son Norman. “There were eight of us living at home when she started the ministry, so she did a lot of laundry with that same machine. She also supervised us kids in raising a large garden and canned much of the food.” During the winter, she worked much of the day on Braille while the children were in school.

Norman Whitney says his mother was committed to the task, even during her own health challenges, because of a firm sense of calling. Reading her Bible one day, she experienced a temporary lack of vision and could not see the print. She felt the Holy Spirit asking, “What if it were like this all the time?” Soon after, reading about a woman who translated Christian materials for the blind, Mrs. Whitney decided to learn Braille and start offering Pentecostal literature.

Over sixty years later, that ministry has developed into the Assemblies of God Center for the Blind. The Center is part of Intercultural Ministries in U.S. Missions, with the motto “Making the Cross Accessible.”

U.S. Missions and the Center for the Blind believe the blind deserve the opportunity to experience “freedom in salvation, joy in belonging, fulfillment in living, and honor in serving.” To make that happen, they develop contemporary materials to present the gospel to the blind, and provide quality Christian books and periodicals in Braille or audio from a library named for Mrs. Whitney. A free audio Bible is available by request to any blind or visually impaired person. The Center creates and distributes children’s materials in Braille, audio, and tactile (pictures designed to be touched).

The Center provides Berean School of the Bible courses as well, enabling the blind to pursue ministerial credentials. Debbie Green, an ordained minister and licensed Christian counselor who is blind, serves her church through pastoral support, special events, and senior ministry. She also plays keyboard on the worship team, occasionally preaches, and has taught courses for the Kentucky Ministry Network’s School of Ministry. “One thing I appreciate about [Center director] Paul Weingartner,” says Debbie, “is that he goes beyond just meeting the special needs of the blind. He wants to equip us for using our gifts and abilities in ministry.”

In addition to providing resources, the Center works to promote blind-friendliness in churches. October is designated as Blindness Awareness Month, and the Center for the Blind offers a prayer and awareness tool, “Not by Sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), listing the prayer topics from their vision and mission statements. They suggest that individuals and churches hold a “Fast Your Vision – Pray for the Blind” event. Participants use an inexpensive sleep mask or a homemade blindfold while going about everyday activity for one, two, three, or four hours. With a new appreciation for how different life would be without sight, people can share their experiences and pray for the needs of those who cannot read standard print due to vision impairment.

The Center also uses YouTube to promote awareness. In an engaging series of short videos, Braille Specialist Sarah Weingartner, who personally lives with limited vision, answers concerns people may have, such as “How to Talk to a Blind Person.” Approximately two to three minutes in length, the videos fit easily into a church service or group meeting.

You don’t have to crank a washing machine wringer these days, but you can help the Center with ministry to the blind. To keep materials free or as inexpensive as possible, much work is done by volunteers. The Center takes advantage of government services such as free mailing of materials for the blind, and operates with only two full-time employees. Volunteers are always needed for preparing recorded materials, and living in Springfield isn’t required to participate. You can also give financially. Your gift helps ensure that no blind or visually impaired person misses out on hearing the gospel or using their gifts and abilities for God. You can send a check, give securely online, or call 1-877-840-4800 to join in “Making the Cross Accessible.” 


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