By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
GERMANTOWN, Md.—Beginning in the mid 90’s, Lyle Shipe started volunteering to go on short-term missionary trips, which took him around the world to more than 16 countries—Romania, India, Kosovo, Thailand, Kenya, Honduras, Dominican Republic and more.
In the summer of 2008, Shipe was retiring after more than a quarter of a century of being the owner and CEO of a successful multi-state title company. As he was closing the door of his secular work life, he sensed God opening another door—to become a full-time missionary.
He had periodically been serving in the Dominican Republic; but soon he found himself more deeply involved in God’s work there. In August 2008, he formed “Touching Lives Worldwide, Inc.” to function as a non-profit Christian organization.
In the beginning, Shipe, a member of NorthStar Community Church in Ijamsville, Md., helped plant and grow a church and add a Christian school of 142 children, developed a purified water program for an impoverished community, purchased land for a church, and more.
However, for the past couple years, God has taken him to new locations and new challenges.
In the border towns of Dajabon, Dominican Republic, and Quanamithe, Haiti, Shipe learned of little Haitian children that would cross the border daily to find food or money for their family. He saw them sleeping in the park overnight because they could not, or would not, return home until they had some food or money.
A little later, he learned of hundreds of deaf children, considered outcasts, who lived in lonely and isolated situations. Many of them lived on the streets, or spent the day on the streets, because they had no other choice. These children had no schooling, no jobs, no help and no hope.
“So many times, one or both of the children’s parents rejected them,” Shipe explains. “They grew up not knowing their name, their age, what time it is, or even what colors were because they had no means of communication.”
Believing that education is the long-term solution to the cycle of poverty, Shipe and his wife Julie became involved in a school for deaf children. In story after story, God provided what was necessary for the school to become a reality: a mission house (which temporarily doubles as the school); two school vans, teachers and land to expand.
Recently, mission teams from North Arundel Church in Glen Burnie, Md., and NorthStar Community Church helped build a structure for storage and securing the school vans, as well as temporary space for additional deaf school classes and community Bible classes.
In less than two years, Touching Lives School for the Deaf has touched the lives of many children, both Haitian and Dominican, who travel from great distances to attend. They are learning a means of communication through sign language (ASL), and now know their name and age and are progressing into reading and writing—and praying.
Ruth, a Christian deaf Dominican lady, now the schoolmaster, planted the seeds for the school. Led by God, Touching Lives Worldwide grew it from there. Today, the children are growing in self-esteem, self-confidence and closer to God.
Louis, a 15-year-old from Haiti, travels miles each day from his cinderblock and scrap metal one-room house, where he sleeps under the bed on a dirt floor to make room for his mother and siblings to sleep. He crosses the gun-toting, United Nations soldiers-controlled Haitian/Dominican Republic border each day.
Priscilla, a vivacious preteen, is the oldest of five siblings who live with their 25-year-old mother in a four-room cinderblock house in busy Dajabon. In addition to being deaf, she appears to be blind in her right eye. But she doesn’t let her impairments hold her back. In sign language, she is very animated as she prays. Her giggles fill the room, obviously quiet otherwise.
Isael, fitted with a hearing aid from a medical mission, lives in the mountains but stays with a local family so he can get his education. When he came to the school, he had no language or reading skills.
Eduardo, a student who lives with his grandmother, was completely normal until age eight. After playing basketball on a very hot day, he collapsed in front of a refrigerator and was presumed dead by the doctors. In line with the culture’s norms, he was placed in a coffin that very day, only to rise out of his coma and cry for his mother. This terrified the family, who left him alone to his resultant deafness and partial retardation.
Another deaf student, 15, while traveling from school, was raped in one of the drainage ditches that line Dajabon’s dirt streets. A young girl, catching a ride to school, was attacked at knifepoint. She fought off her would-be-attackers, sustaining knife wounds on her hands.
“Each student has a remarkable story,” says Shipe, glowing with the gratitude that he gets to touch lives for Jesus in this way.
Everything he does is grounded in the fact that he is “being obedient to Jesus” while sharing his God-given talents and resources. He takes no salary, and admits that the needs he sees often overwhelm him.
“This organization is smaller than David; but, what God has put before it is larger than Goliath,” he says.
Yet he’s constantly amazed at how God puts people into his path who provide exactly what is needed for the ministry. In and outside of the mission field, he’s met other passionate Christians who are interested in serving; but, he states, “As you know, the need is so great but the workers are so few.”
Shipe’s organization also provides English/Bible classes for 85 children who attend a local Dajabon church. The pastor of that church and Touching Lives Worldwide are committed to “seeding” a church in the new school building that will soon be under construction. They also partner in a summer camp for 125 children.
Since the earthquake of 2010, in Port au Prince, Haiti, Shipe and Touching Lives Worldwide has also supported an orphanage, New Hope Children’s Refuge, and a school for almost 300 children. Currently, Lord willing, he seeks to help a pastor in Quanamithe who has taken in 33 homeless young children.
On May 17, Touching Lives Worldwide will host its 3rd annual Touching Lives Worldwide Charity Golf Tournament at the P.B. Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville, where he hopes to raise funds to complete the expansion of the deaf school and the Haitian orphanage.
“The success of this fundraising event is critical,” says Shipe. “We need caring people to get involved.”
For more information on how to participate or to sponsor a child in either the school or the orphanage, visit online at www.touchinglivesworldwide.org or call Shipe at (301) 540-7444.