IM this article to a friend!

November 23, 2002

Ministry to deaf includes those who can hear

From: Montgomery Independent, AL
Nov. 23, 2002

The Associated Press
11/23/02 11:53 AM

LaGrange (Ga.) Daily News

LANETT, Ala. (AP) -- Every Sunday morning in a small Baptist church in Lanett, half the congregation cannot hear the pastor speak.

While they cannot understand the words coming out of Raymond Alexander's mouth, the churchgoers do receive the message being delivered by his hands. The church, Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Deaf Church, has about 40 members, half of whom are deaf.

The pastor speaks and signs his sermons.

"We are a deaf church that also ministers to the hearing world," Alexander said.

As a hearing child of deaf parents, Alexander has been a part of the deaf culture since birth.

" Sign language was my first language," he said.

For 10 years, Alexander interpreted for the deaf at a hearing church.

Often the pastor would make a joke or use an expression that did not translate into American Sign Language (ASL), and Alexander would see looks of confusion on the faces of those who were watching his hands.

"So I began to pray, God, send these deaf people a preacher. Well He did, but little did I know that it was going to be me," Alexander said. " So I answered the call to preach."

Alexander and his wife, Sandra, established the deaf church in March 1999. The pastor and his congregation have moved twice before settling into their current location.

The church attracts deaf and hearing people in a 60-mile radius- from Columbus to Phenix City, Ala., from the Valley area to Roanoke, Ala.

The hearing have their own church, so why can't the deaf have their own?

"You can ask any deaf person and they will tell you that they love our church," he said. "I appreciate hearing churches that have a deaf ministry, but it's not the same as their (the deafs) own."

Church member Doris Ferguson, who is deaf, agrees. She and her husband, Charlie, drive from Phenix City to attend the church.

"It's great to have a place where the deaf can come and learn about God," she said. "It's also great to be able to fellowship with other deaf people."

Her husband, who can hear, enjoys attending the church too.

" I like it because it helps her with her walk with God and it help me with mine as well," he said. "I can hear the preacher while she can watch him. "

Alexander said many of the hearing members have a loved one who is deaf. Others are just curious and want to observe.

Jackie Kennedy of Columbus, a hearing member, brings her mother, Ernestine White, who is deaf, to the church each Sunday. Kennedy teaches deaf children at Key Elementary School in Columbus.

Kennedy said the church is important for her mother so she can get out of the house and talk with other deaf people. She also took her mother to the Nov. 1 silent dinner at LaGrange Mall.

" Doing this, going to the church and the silent dinner, it's good for her," Kennedy said.

John Presley, a hearing member who serves as deacon, Sunday School teacher and holds many other church responsibilities, has no family members who are deaf. Instead he was inspired to become a part of a deaf ministry through television.

"I became interested in sign language in 1977, while watching a church program on TV and noticed a woman in the bubble signing the service," he said. "I was really thrilled about this and had a desire to learn from that time on. The reason for my involvement with the deaf was to give back to society and make a difference in the education of deaf children. My calling is to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ with others to the deaf, young and old."

Church members, hearing and deaf, are also attracted to the simplicity of Alexanders sermons.

While delivering the word of God is never an easy task, Alexander said preaching to the deaf can be even harder because of the differences between spoken English and ASL, such as verbs like is, are and were are not used in ASL.

" I don't throw big ol' long words in or I'll loose some of them," Alexander said. "We're an ASL- Bible teaching church. I have people here who graduated from college, some who finished high school, others with a third-grade education and deaf children. I have to reach them all. That does not mean deaf people are not smart. Some are and some are not, like with hearing people."

Alexander said deaf people are some of the most lovingest people in the world and can be very social. Deaf people, when they get together, it's hard to get them apart, he said after a Sunday service.

"We'll have people still here at 4 and 5 p.m."

Not being able to communicate with others, though, often causes deaf people to feel lonely. But while they may be lonely, they are not alone. More than 30 million Americans cannot hear words of love, a symphony by Beethoven or the laughter of a child.

" Deaf people need the same things that hearing people need, " Alexander said. "They live in silent world, but they don't have to. You can make a difference. Learn their language."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.