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Braille Resources Find Home

June 26, 2024
woman reading braille document
Eren Li on Pexels

A number of braille resources donated to the Christian Reformed Church over the years have found new homes where they can be used for ministry.

In fall 2023, Lindsay Wieland Capel, a disability consultant with Thrive, received a request for a braille Bible from Sara Lemke, a member of Faith Community Fellowship in Mount Vernon, Wash., for a friend at the church.

“My friend has been blind since birth, and although she has read braille [since childhood], she relies on audiobooks for reading material,” explained Lemke. “It seemed that she should have a hard copy of the Bible if she wanted one, so I asked her.” Her friend showed interest, so Lemke decided to see what she could find.

“After a couple of emails and phone calls to online entities, there was Lindsay from Thrive!” said Lemke. Wieland Capel said she remembered hearing that such a resource had been donated to Disability Concerns years ago.

In February 2024, Grand Rapids office staff were working to sort and pack resources in preparation for the sale of the building and a move to a different office. A braille New Testament and Psalms, along with a few other braille resources, were discovered among materials stored in the basement. Wieland Capel replied to Lemke’s email, letting her know that this resource was available.

“The volumes of Psalms and the New Testament arrived shortly after a couple of conversations with Lindsay, and my friend is now almost halfway through reading the entire collection,” said Lemke.

Braille text takes up a lot of room because the print is three dimensional, her friend explained to Lemke, so when the friend finishes reading the resource, she would like to donate the books so that someone else can enjoy them as well.

Wieland Capel said she was happy to see the braille New Testament and Psalms shared and used, but she wondered what to do with the other braille resources that had been found. Then, just a few days later, she got her answer when Richard Gerndt contacted the office.

An Unusual Gift and Training

A member of Discovery CRC in Cutlerville, Mich., Gerndt explained that he is a certified braille transcriber through the Library of Congress, and he offered his skills should the CRCNA ever need them. As he talked with Wieland Capel, he also mentioned that he keeps a braille library. Wieland Capel offered him the remaining resources, including the braille machine, which he accepted.

In the course of their conversation, Wieland Capel asked Gerndt how he came to be trained in braille, and his answer surprised her: he had been trained in prison.

He shared that he had had a difficult childhood, including physical abuse and neglect. By age 21, he seemed to have overcome those difficulties, and he owned a successful cleaning business, but the stress of working 12-15 hour days, seven days a week, led to his making some bad decisions, and he was arrested at age 25, with the possibility of a 20- to 40-year sentence.

“It was during my time in jail when I met Chaplain George from Forgotten Man Ministries,” said Gerndt. “I told him my story, hoping to get some sympathy, but was told, ‘Richard, you need Jesus in your life.’ The Bible was foreign to me. But I began to read it, starting from page one . . . and taking notes.”

The more he read the Bible, the more he recognized changes in his life, said Gerndt. “I was learning that I could trust God with the good and bad. This wasn’t an easy process for me. I [had been] taught that if I wanted anything in life, I had to get it.”

After his trial and sentencing, Gerndt went to prison, and he continued to read the Bible and take in every Bible study he could access.

Several years later, Gerndt was writing articles in his free time and offering them to magazines. “Within the walls of the facility, there is a program called Michigan Braille Transcribing Fund (MBTF), [through which] inmates can work producing braille for students,” Gerndt explained. “I had this idea of writing an article about braille, so I sent a letter to the program to see if I could get a firsthand look at how books are transcribed into braille. I was invited to MBTF to get information for my article. And during that time I was asked to fill out an application for a job, so I did.”

Gerndt was interviewed and took the entrance exam, he said, and was accepted into the program. “On my first day sitting with the CEO of MBTF, she shared with me that I had failed the entrance exam but that she saw I had potential and wanted to give me the opportunity,” said Gerndt. He worked there for about six years before being transferred to another correctional facility.

In that prison, Gerndt said, he started and helped to lead a Christian Reformed Church congregation. Paul Sausser, a minister at Discovery CRC, visited Gerndt in prison from time to time. When Gerndt was released near the end of 2015, Sausser invited him to join Discovery CRC, and Gerndt accepted. He became involved in outreach and now serves as a deacon.

Gerndt then worked at Goodwill Industries for a number of years before taking some time off to renew his braille certification. “I started the course through the National Federation of the Blind and received my letter of proficiency from the Library of Congress in 2024.” He now works at a local agricultural business.

“I am currently looking for the Lord to lead where he wants me to apply my Braille certification and use my gift in a way that glorifies him,” said Gerndt.

Other Gifts Recognized

As others recognized and encouraged Gerndt’s gifts, Wieland Capel recognized gifts in Lemke from when she had interacted with her about a braille Bible for her friend. Wanting to encourage her, Wieland Capel asked Lemke if she would consider volunteering as a disability advocate for her home church and for the Pacific Northwest region. Lemke decided she would try that, noting, “Now that I'm retired, I have been asking God to show me more service opportunities, and when this need was presented, it seemed that I should accept it and find out if I could truly be useful. With God helping me, I believe I can be helpful until he directs otherwise.”

Reflecting on how things worked out, Wieland Capel noted, “It was neat how these two avenues of need appeared in my inbox while we were looking for what to do with these resources. . . . It felt very obvious that God was orchestrating it all.”