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American Sign Language: 

Deaf Ministry:

In a message dated 9/18/2006 2:12:40 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, aneking@ writes:
Hi Bill,

My name is Audrey ____  &I hope you do not mind that I am e-mailing you.  I am not a registered student or anything like that.  I am actually a Teacher of the Deaf.  I have my BA & MA degree & have taught deaf students for the past 8 years & moved on to teaching ASL classes at a local college for 3 years then to the field of Baby Sign Language once I had my children.  I've been in the field for a long time & LOVE it & love your site as well!

My dilemma is this... Since having my kids, I stopped working to be a Stay at Home Mom.  I met a great girl at our new church who expressed to me that she wants to start a Deaf Ministry.  She asked if I would like to be a part of it so I said "wonderful".  Apparently she began a Deaf ministry at her old church & taught Sign classes.  In meeting with her to set up our program, I've encountered a few major problems.

1.  She is not in the field at all.  (She's actually a nurse who has learned sign language from her old pastor at another church)  She does not know many ASL signs (the curriculum they used is all Signed English signs & other systems mixed)

2.  She wants to teach the classes even though she is not technically in the field & doesn't know much about the Deaf Community.

3.  Her idea of this "Deaf Ministry" is to teach those interested parties Sign Language (2 ten week semesters) & to pick the best ones to begin to interpret the services & do outreach. 

My feeling on this is...The Sign Language instruction should be ASL signs because that is what is used in the Deaf Community. 

The Deaf ministry goals as I see it should be to teach people in the church signs so that they can learn how to communicate with Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals when they begin to attend our church so that they can become a part of the church family. 

I don't feel it is right for sign language students, who have only had 2 semesters of classes, to interpret the service for Deaf patrons .  I don't feel that they should be "practicing/training" on the Deaf people coming for the service.  I feel that the Deaf deserve to have qualified signers providing full access to the service. I feel strongly that we are NOT an Interpreter Training Program & it is wrong to take on this role.

I tried to explain my feelings about all this, but she feels that it worked well in her last ministry therefore, it WILL work here.  She also really feels that Deaf people are very understanding & patient with the students who are learning & are so happy that they are trying to learn sign language that they won't mind being practiced on. 

She has already talked to the Pastor about the Deaf Ministry.  I just have many issues that I do not necessarily agree with.  I truly don't want to hurt her feelings but don't know if I can be involved with this because of the impending issues. 

Now my question to you is... What are your thoughts on this whole issue?  Am I being too rigid or unbending in my beliefs?  I like to think of myself as an advocate for the Deaf Community.  Am I totally off on this.  I have been in the field for a long time & I know it takes a long time to become an interpreter!  A lot longer than 2 ten week semesters.  I know you've had some involvement in Deaf ministry so I would love to know what you've experienced or what your thoughts are on this issue!

I sincerely hope you respond back to me so I can figure out what I should tell my pastor of what my involvement will be in this.

Thank you so much for your time, (especially reading my book of an e-mail)

God Bless, Audrey ____
aneking@____

Audrey,
I am in complete agreement with you on all of your points.
There is no easy answer or solution to cross cultural differences and paternalistic, patronizing attitudes.
Sometimes we simply have to say, "Thank you for the invitation, but after careful consideration I will have to decline."
We can then add, "If you'd like to know my reasons, I'd be happy to share them with you."
If the other person does ask your reasons, you can then approach the discussion by clarifying the purposes of the proposed endeavor. 

In establishing a Deaf Ministry, what are the goals and desired outcomes?  Some possibilities include:
1.  Provide opportunities for church members to serve and develop their talents and abilities.
2.  Provide opportunities for church members to have joy in that service.
3.  Do no harm.
4.  Provide opportunities for Deaf community members to come unto Christ.
5.  Provide opportunities for Deaf community members to serve and develop their talents and abilities.
6.  Build up good public relations with the general community.
7.  Build up long-term good public relations with the Deaf community.
And so forth.

You can develop these desired outcomes into a "mission statement."
Once you have clarified the goals and reasons for setting up such a ministry you have the "WHAT and the WHY."
The "HOW" becomes easier because you can refer back to your mission statement.
If one of your goals is to have good public relations with the Deaf Community, that influences your decision regarding what type of sign language instruction to provide.  Since ASL is valued in the Deaf Community and Signed English is merely tolerated it then makes sense to decide to teach ASL rather than Signed English.

If the pastor and other interested people disagree with this idea and instead claim that Deaf people really prefer Signed English then you simply refer back to your earlier assertion that "Yes, that is why I am not going to be involved--because we have a difference of opinion and I would prefer not to get involved with something that is being done in a way that is contrary to how my heart and my experience tell me it should be done.  Now, would you like to hear more of my reasons and thoughts or should I simply wish you well and let you get on with doing it your way?"
Cordially,
-- Brother Bill

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