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December 20, 2002

Deaf ministry brings Bible and fellowship to hearing impaired

From: Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, IA - 20 Dec 2002

Courier Staff Writer

There was a time when Sharon Petersen found it difficult to attend church every Sunday.

It wasn't that she couldn't get there, or that she didn't want to go. It was that she couldn't hear the message.

Deaf since birth, the Waterloo woman could follow along through parts of the service with her Bible or hymnal, but without an interpreter she couldn't hear the sermon.

Then in 1975 she heard about a new deaf ministry at Hagerman Baptist Church and decided to check it out. Two years later, she became a member and has been attending ever since.

"I come to learn stories about Jesus' life," Petersen says. "And for fellowship with hearing people."

For 27 years, the Waterloo church has been quietly reaching out to people like Petersen, providing American Sign Language interpreters at morning and evening services and creating Sunday school classes that cater to the hearing impaired.

Because worship services involve long stretches of talking, two interpreters share signing duties. One signs the music, the other signs the message. They unobtrusively shadow the pastor, allowing their deaf friends to receive the same message as everyone else.

Translating to sign language takes just as much effort as translating between two spoken languages. Sometimes it's not just going from one language to another, but finding new words to express what's being said.

"If they say something picturesque, we don't interpret word for word," says Karen Anderson, who interprets Sunday services. "We're going more for the idea, so they understand the concept."

Hagerman has three regular ASL interpreters and two others who assist when needed to accommodate the congregation's eight hearing-impaired members.

"That sends the message that deaf people are welcome, because there will be interpreters there to help them understand the message," says Candy Astelle, a Waterloo woman who is gradually losing her hearing. "(If it weren't for this ministry) I might as well stay home. I read lips, but not that fast. If the interpreter weren't there to sign, I wouldn't get anything."

Many of Hagerman's interpreters learned ASL solely because they wanted to take part in the deaf ministry.

"I don't have any family members who are deaf," interpreter Tammy Remetch says. "It's just a burden I had to learn sign language and to minister."

About one-third of the adults and most of the children in the congregation know at least some sign language, Remetch says. Many of the children pick it up through their Sunday school class. One of their peers has hearing loss, so the elementary teacher signs as she talks through the day's lesson.

That experience has helped the children learn more than just another language, Anderson says.

"It's easy for kids to become afraid of somebody if they don't understand them," she says. "These kids are able to grow up knowing a deaf person and understand that they're not really any different than you and me."

Church members with hearing loss are happy to have a place they can count on being able to communicate with deaf and hearing alike, whether it's about religion or anything else.

"I enjoy the fellowship of all the people," says Peterson. "To be able to talk to all the people here."

AMBER WENDT / Courier Staff Photographer

The only thing different about Danny Hall, right, is that he needs a cochlear implant and a hearing aid in order to hear. It is still hard for him to hear with a lot of background noise, so the Hagerman Baptist Church's Sunday school instructor, Norma Kline, also uses American Sign Language to teach her class.

AMBER WENDT / Courier Staff Photographer

Norma Kline, first-through third-grade Sunday school teacher, uses American Sign Language methods to teaching her class.

© The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier 2002