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June 6, 2004

Senior uses gift to teach

From: The Lafayette Daily Advertiser, LA - Jun 6, 2004

The Associated Press

June 6, 2004

TIOGA (AP) — Tioga High School senior Lena Nelson learned how to finger-spell in the first grade from her deaf baby sitter.

Since then, Lena has taught herself more American Sign Language for fun and taught some friends so they could have a "secret language" at school.

Now, fate has led Lena to incorporate her once-for-fun signing skills into a career.

"I've known since eighth grade I should be a teacher," she said. "That's what God told me to do. I'm drawn to deaf ministry, and my spiritual gift is to teach."

As a teacher cadet, Lena has explored that calling all semester by helping in the parish deaf-education classroom at Mabel Brasher Elementary School.

Teacher cadets take a semester-long high school course in education and spend the next semester honing their skills in a real classroom setting.

Lena was led to the classroom, where deaf and hearing impaired elementary pupils are gathered from all over the parish. The four children in the class have come to adore her.

The first time Lena walked into the classroom, she wore her JROTC uniform. That's how the children came up with her sign name.

They modified the sign for soldier, which is two fists held over the heart as if grasping a rifle. But for Lena, the fists are formed into L's with the thumb and index finger.

The teacher, Gwen Wester, said the pupils start signing for Lena the minute they walk in the door every morning.

"Lena's going to be an awesome teacher," Wester said. "She has such a heart for the kids. I can't send her to do errands out of the class because the kids will cry."

When asked what she thinks of Lena, 4-year-old Makinlee's expressive eyes widened, and she put two fingers near her nose to sign "fun."

Lena drills the pupils on their sign language numbers and letters. She also accompanies them to regular classrooms to sign what the teacher is saying so they can interact with their peers.

Lena's dreams go far beyond this tiny classroom. Before she launches a career as a teacher, she feels led to start a deaf ministry in Scotland. She'll head to the Masters Commission near Shreveport in the fall for an intensive year of mission training.

"There are 50 million deaf people in the world," Lena said. "Only 2 percent of those know Jesus. The deaf world is ignorant about Jesus because nobody speaks their language.

"I just know that's where God is calling me."

©The Lafayette Daily Advertiser