AU’s first deaf graduate from the Institute of Theology and Religious Studies makes history and aspires to transform deaf ministry in Ghana

In photo: (Left to right): Collins Prempeh; Rev. Dr. David Bishau (Director of ITRS, Dean of CSSTHE); Martin Sichone from Zambia; Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, Associate Professor of Religion, Gallaudet Univ; Rev. Professor Peter Mageto, Vice Chancellor of Africa University; Rev. Dr. Thomas Hudspeth, Pastor of Deaf Ministries at Lovers Lane UMC, Dallas and Consultant, UM Committee on Deaf & Hard of Hearing Ministries; Candas Barnes, lead interpreter, Gallaudet Univ., Washington, D.C.

Collins Prempeh from Ghana became Africa University’s first deaf graduate from the Institute of Theology and Religious Studies after completing a degree in Divinity at the institutions’ 29th graduation ceremony held on the 10th of June 2023. The attainment of this degree is the first step in a journey that will see Deaf Ministry in Ghana empowered with pastors from the deaf community who are ordained and trained to serve from their perspective and preach based on their lived experiences.

Collins’ studies were supported by the SEEDS Scholarship which is an acronym for Serving and Educating Exceptional Deaf Students that is coordinated by Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas , Texas. Reverend Tom Hudspeth, Associate Pastor at Lovers Lane attended his graduation together with Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder, Assistant Professor of Religion at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. , Candas Barnes also from Gallaudet University and Martin Sichone from Zambia who is also deaf and looks forward to joining Africa University in August 2024.

Rev. Hudspeth said, “ We recognise Colllins’ historic achievement of graduating and being the first deaf Theology student to graduate from Africa University. We want to see Africa University open to the deaf community, expanding opportunities and  education. We see this dream coming true through this university. To see Collins graduate is an important moment which many have been praying for.”

Collins’ chance meeting with Reverend Hudspeth in 2013 at a conference for the deaf in Nairobi , Kenya began a friendship and shared vision that would lead to the growth of deaf ministry in Ghana and Africa which is still in its infancy and has tremendous potential for expansion. Collins often wondered where he would therefore be able to go for further studies and not only be welcomed, but also find a community that understood his challenges and would not see them as hinderances but as an opportunity to find new pathways for educating people who are differently abled.

Rev. Professor Peter Mageto recalled during a courtesy call with the team, “ When we were thinking through the modalities of teaching Collins in a class of hearing students and with hearing lecturers, we thought through how he would cope, how we would adapt our teaching methods and how we could live our ethos of truly inclusive education. It seemed daunting at the time but we saw it as an avenue for growth and learning. It taught us to think differently and to continue learning. He challenged us to grow.”

Rev. Dr. Kirk VanGilder went on to add, “ We are on this earth to learn continuously and what we have here is a heart and mind connection of people for a common cause. Africa University is a truly special place and being here we are witnessing that and the passion that it has for truly developing young people from all backgrounds and contexts.”

Looking back on his decision to choose Africa University and how far he has come, Collins said, ” I just want to say thank you to all those who supported me and gave so freely all that I needed. In Ghana, I had a dream of furthering my education and wondered where I could go to study Theology. I had fears of acceptance and of whether I would be rejected. But I found friendships and connections. I have succeeded and I am an example to others that there is a future for the deaf in Africa.”

Collins’s graduation from Africa University is a genuine cause for celebration. His achievement marks a significant milestone in the development of deaf ministry in Ghana and Africa, and it provides hope and inspiration for people with disabilities everywhere. His story also highlights the importance of striving towards inclusion and diversity in education and society at large.