A Facebook discussion about Deafness and “sign language” church ministry

Recently, I happened upon a Facebook page. I have to admit, it’s a rather attractive one. I think you all would agree. And I also think that many of my readers would readily understand why I would have found myself there:

GHWPage

(Yeah; my Facebook is in Japanese…)

God’s Handy Work (Sign Group) is, of course, a page dedicated to the showcasing of the work of the Sing Language Ministry. The ministry has its home at Emmanuel Apostolic Church, a church in Kingston, Jamaica.

It’s been a while since I used the term “church sign” but I’m afraid I must here. I scrolled through, watched watched a bit of video, viewed some pictures, and, yes, it seems God’s Handy Work does do church sign.

TheVideoGHW

I tried to stop myself from commenting on one of their videos (screenshot above), but in the end, I couldn’t.

What follows is the conversation as it took place in the comments:

GHWconvo1 GHWconvo2

They then responded with:

GHWconvo3

This is from a screenshot taken with my phone. That’s why it looks different.

Well, before I could gather my thoughts and (after asking a Deaf friend) give what I thought a culturally appropriate Deaf answer, all the comments were deleted.

Why? Maybe they thought it would detract from their ministry as they figure out how to take “initiative”? Maybe they were just embarrassed? Maybe they just wanted to end the conversation? Maybe they changed their mind about whatever “initiative” they decided to take?

I don’t know.

I just hope that my words did have some positive effect. I am not “the voice of the deaf”; I am a student of Deaf culture, and I felt I had a responsibility because I am hearing and, unfortunately, have more privilege to speak up than the Deaf.

For too long hearing people have taken what’s a matter of Deaf cultural identity and used it in their “sign language ministries” and “sign language performances”.

A post I made of God's Handy Work photos on my Facebook Page

A post I made of God’s Handy Work photos on my Facebook Page

What hurts me even more is when I see a hearing-minded deaf (notice: not Deaf, which is the cultural identity) person doing the same kind of thing, as I recently saw in my Facebook news-feed. And when hearing teachers of Deaf choreograph such a performance for their young deaf students who haven’t yet learnt their culture. These kinds of things only perpetuate the idea that the Deaf love and appreciate this kind of thing.

They don’t.

Stop it.

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3 Responses to A Facebook discussion about Deafness and “sign language” church ministry

  1. Val says:

    Hello, I recently “stumbled” upon your blog; you are an excellent writer. I tried to start a blog, but people were more used to ready my Facebook “stories” than going to a blog, so I gave it up, but I do enjoy writing. Although I TOTALLY understand the point you were making regarding your critique of “God’s Handy Work (Sign Group), I also know that people can’t do what they don’t know or understand. I’ve heard the saying many times, “when you know better, you do better.” You see, I’ve been there (everyone had to start somewhere–we didn’t come out of the womb knowing ASL or JSL). In 1986, I was teaching a Sunday School class in Michigan. I told my students that for the Easter program we would SING a song, Rise Again. The day before the Easter program, the Lord woke me up and said, “Why don’t you do the song in sign language?” First, I knew absolutely nothing about sign language, not even the manual alphabet! But, I called to our local Bible bookstore and asked the clerk if they had any books on sign language. Long story short, they had no sign language books, but the clerk knew sign language and he ended up teaching me my first song in sign language.I taught my students the next morning and we signed the song that afternoon. So it was truly a call from God. But it was first ALL Sign English….that was all I knew. Because it was a call and gifting from God, I began to get calls from other churches to come sign songs and I also taught as many people as possible. I did not learn about ASL until FIVE YEARS LATER, then I was so bummed out that I didn’t learn it in the beginning! My point is this: go easy on the church ministries and others because most times they just don’t know. I have more than a hundred Deaf and Hard of Hearing friends and acquaintances from various states in America and even a few from out of the country. I reach out to churches and others to try to educate them about the plight of the Deaf Community. But it was a process. Eventually, I returned to college and got a degree in Sign Language Studies and later started a non-profit where I helped to bridge bring exposure to the Deaf Community and show others that Deaf people can indeed, do anything except hear! It was in college that I really began to learn more in-depth about the Deaf Community and I did the same thing you did because now I had knowledge. I was at a couple’s house and they had a meeting with their Deaf and HH business owners. However, before the meeting was over, I was lecturing them about why they should not have been “forcing” the Deaf business owners in their group to use their voices instead of allowing them to continue to sign. Needless to say, they were steamed–especially since they did not even know me (we had just met that day). So I had to learn the hard way. My husband used to have a saying, “easy, easy.” So continue to educate, but just go easy–you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. God bless you and keep doing what you do! Maybe we can collaborate one day–not sure how, but who knows. I also have some videos on youtube; just type in “terpval” in the search bar and my videos will pop up. Remember, easy easy 🙂

    Like

    • kenliano says:

      Thanks for your compliments and comments, Val.

      I do think the brutally honest nature of the Deaf culture may be rubbing off on me, because I do find myself having to temper my expressiveness lately.

      That being said, in Jamaica, we’ve been using honey without much success; so I think some vinegar might be in order. Our culture is a bit more accepting of vinegar than America’s, I think… 🙂

      But yes, I take your point, and in the future, I’ll see if going easier would be more suitable.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Cultural Appropriation on National Television, Audism on Facebook | Mr Multilingual

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