ALL is a big word. All means all, with no exceptions. Is it possible for all people in a group to be the same? For example, are these statements true or false? – All Americans enjoy watching baseball. All Mexicans like jalapeño peppers. All men like sports. All tall people think they are better than short people. – The answer is false. In every group there are differences. All are NOT the same. Churches are not all the same. Deaf ministries are not all the same. Interpreters are not all the same. Deaf people are not all the same.
Deaf People – In the deaf ministry there are several groups of deaf people – ASL culture, Cochlear implants, Hard-of-hearing, ASL + Lip-reading, Late-deafened, and more. Some d/Deaf people adapt well into the “hearing” world. Others are more comfortable only within the Deaf community. It is wrong to say that all deaf people are the same. However, many deaf people may have similar experiences. Many deaf people have faced discrimination in one form or another. In the past, employers may have refused to hire a deaf person, possibly because of the inconvenience of also needing an interpreter. Deafness has been called a communication handicap. Deaf people are as normal as hearing people. But is seems that many hearing people feel awkward around deaf people. One hearing man once said that he felt handicapped because he did not know sign language! He was limited and not able to communicate with the Deaf people in his church.
ASL Interpreters – Recently a Deaf man explained that he was often very frustrated with his interpreters. Some interpreters have excellent sign language and interpreting skills, but even they must continue to study and learn. Some interpreters had Deaf parents or learned ASL early in life. Some interpreters have excellent facial expression, while others are more shy or do not use their face much at all. But all interpreters need to improve. SWM conducts two annual ASL Institute Workshops (ASLI) for church interpreters. ASLI is three days of training to help church interpreters develop their ASL and interpreting skills in a Christian setting. All interpreters may not be the same, but all must continue to improve! (Plan to come to ASLI in 2014 to improve your sign language skills! More info at SilentWordMinistries.org/asli)
Deaf Ministries and Deaf Churches – Some churches understand the special language needs of deaf people. Hard-of-hearing or late-deafened people may need assistive listening devices, special seating, or a special interpreter. Other deaf people may need a sign language or ASL interpreter. Some, but not all churches understand the need of giving the sign language interpreter adequate time to prepare for church songs and sermons. Some churches are “Deaf-friendly” and try to create a deaf culture atmosphere, where Deaf people can feel more comfortable. This also makes it easier for Deaf people to actively participate in the church service.
Prepare the Interpreter – It seems that many professional interpreters are uncomfortable interpreting in the church setting. Over many years, I have observed that many church interpreters must interpret without much advance preparation. Church music directors, or Ministers of Music, generally must know the field of music before churches would consider them. They invest much time preparing the church music program and practicing before Sunday. However, most music directors may be surprised at the amount of time required to prepare and plan the ASL interpretation of each song. An interpreter may sometimes invest two to three hours preparing one song so it can be signed clearly in ASL. There is not one standard or universal interpretation. Each interpreter must prepare each song. Then the interpreter must practice the song so the presentation is beautiful and matches the music. This must be done for every song and every church service. Also, pastors generally prepare for ministry by attending college and/or seminary. They invest hours each week preparing for their sermons. The ASL interpreter can be more prepared by knowing the main point or preaching theme of the sermon in advance. Because they must interpret from a spoken language to a visual language, interpreters must also consider the best way to interpret Bible terminology and concepts into ASL. Pastors and music leaders can help sign language interpreters provide better ASL interpretations of their sermons and music by sharing information in advance.
A Church Deaf Ministry – Think about it. If a church loses their pastor, they look for another pastor. If they lose their music leader or youth minister, they find someone else for the position. The deaf ministry should also be a church ministry. If the interpreter gets sick or moves away, the church should not drop the deaf people, but should consider having others prepared to continue the deaf ministry. The deaf ministry cannot circumvent the church or pastor, but must be a ministry of and through the local church. In some areas, a full- or part-time deaf pastor or leader can help the church develop a more successful deaf ministry. Churches must consider the needs of all people. Idea: A church with no deaf ministry could consider supporting a missionary or ministry to deaf people.
More than Interpreting – A deaf ministry includes sign language and interpreting, but those are only part of the overall deaf ministry. The emphasis should not be on the interpreting but on the deaf ministry. Churches can use sign language to teach the Bible, mentor, and influence Deaf people for Christ. Sign language is only a language through which churches minister to Deaf people.
Prepare – One pastor with a deaf ministry recently said, “Our church interpreters must be adequately prepared. We do everything we can to help them. Anything less causes disrespect to the Word of God.”
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”– Benjamin Franklin