Wow! Fifty years, 1966 – 2016, and counting. Silent Word Ministries celebrating our 50th year serving Deaf people causes me to reflect on my involvement through these years.
Learning Sign Language
In 1966, I was a dutiful pastor’s wife, homemaker, mother of a four-year-old daughter, and expecting our second child. A one week sign language class was scheduled for our church, Beulah Chapel Baptist, and the majority of the members signed up. Thinking I would never need sign language and being very pregnant, shy and awkward, I had no interest. However, being a dutiful pastor’s wife and feeling the need to be an example, I gave in and signed up. The class was three hours each evening, Monday through Friday. Whew! I made it and found sign language very interesting. I took it seriously and learned a few signs. A short time afterward, our baby boy was born and my time and attention was taken with him. Most of what I had learned was soon forgotten. A dedicated couple, Hugh and Edna Earnest, felt the Deaf ministry was God’s calling for them, and they became the leaders of the ministry. Deaf people (whom I thought were a little weird and strange) began attending our services, and it was thrilling. Being shy and not able to communicate, I felt awkward and nervous. Actually, I worked hard to avoid Deaf people. I even made it a point to sit on the opposite side of the church auditorium. Hugh taught the deaf Sunday school class, and Edna did the interpreting. The deaf ministry was a wonderful blessing to our church as well as to the Deaf people.
One Sunday night, as I watched Deaf people assemble and begin to communicate, I saw them use my “sign name.” I thought, “They are talking about me. What are they saying? What have I done?” I felt panic as I looked around for the interpreter. She wasn’t there! “Where is she? Oh no!” The Deaf group saw me watching, and I looked away. I took another look and they motioned for me to come over. (Remember I sat on the opposite side.) Slowly I walked over and with my body language asked, “What?” They signed to me, “You interpret!” I almost fainted and said, “Who me?” They answered, “Yes, you!” I lamely said, “I’ll try.” I was so shaky and weak in the knees I had to get a chair. I remembered a few signs such as church, love, Bible, Jesus, etc. I finger-spelled a few words and someone showed me the sign. Very little was interpreted that night and I am sure the Deaf people learned very little, but something wonderful happened to me that changed my life. That night I fell in love with the Deaf people and I have been in love with them ever since. I learned that they were not strange or weird, but kind and sweet and eager to live life just like everyone else. They have their own beautiful language and are willing to share it. That night I began a journey that continues today. By the way, I began learning their language that night and fifty years later I am still learning.
Being involved these fifty years in the deaf ministry has been exciting. It has taken me to places I never imagined I would go. Ted and I have ministered in every state except North Dakota and Mississippi. Plus I have had the privilege to be a part of deaf ministry in Mexico, the Bahamas, Belize, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada, the Philippines, Guam, China, and England. On this journey we have been foster parents to three Deaf children, ministered in two state deaf schools, served twenty years at the Bill Rice Ranch, and have made friends with thousands of Deaf people and hearing people who have a heart for deaf ministry. The most exciting part is that God has led us all the way. He has provided all the needs and blessed us beyond measure. We are deeply grateful.
Joys and Sorrows
Among the joys, of course, is seeing thousands of Deaf people receive Christ as Savior and seeing many of them go on to full-time Christian work; being the interpreter at beautiful weddings and at the birth of their babies; being a friend and mentor; and opening opportunities that Deaf people thought were impossible for them. With the joys come sorrows: telling a Deaf father that his baby was born dead; watching a Deaf father and mother hold their lifeless baby after only living a few hours; sitting in an ambulance with a Deaf lady who tried suicide; interpreting marriage counseling sessions which still ended in divorce; watching a dear Deaf friend as she battled cancer and then lost the battle; watching grief stricken husbands as they buried they Deaf wives. Looking back, I know that I have been exactly where the Lord wanted me. I know that a fulfilling life is one that makes a difference in another person’s life. For these 50 years, I am thankful that the Lord has privileged me by putting me in the Deaf ministry.
SWM’s ministry verse … “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform (complete) it until the day of Jesus Christ.”– Philippians 1:6
Fifty years ago God began a good work in us. I am thankful for the night I said, “Who me?” and the answer was, “Yes, you!” This is written because I care… Carlene