Thursday, December 22, 2005

Celebrating Christmas with American Sign Language
The Good News in ASL

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.” Psalm 134:2

On the church stage, “Christmas Journey” was acted out in American Sign Language for the deaf audience. For the hearing audience, the script was voice interpreted.

This December as my husband and I watched the excellent production at Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church, two scriptures came to mind: about lifting holy hands and Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf would “hear the words of the scroll” (Isaiah 29:18).

Last year, a Woodhaven member invited me to their annual Christmas Drama. In our conversation, the member related how this generation could be the one to more completely fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf will hear about the Messiah.

Over 100 sign languages exist in the world. American Sign Language is the fourth language of the United States. Some colleges even offer it for foreign language credit, and more than 23 million Americans are deaf. Gaulledet University’s President said, “Deaf people can do anything . . . except hear.” With clarity, Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church demonstrated that in the production of a “Christmas Journey.”

As my husband and I watched the drama unfold, we became enamored with the Deaf World where “sign language is spoken.” Dawn Sign Press says the deaf “listen with their eyes,” and “facial expressions and body language say as much as the human voice.”

That night we listened with our eyes, too. And this is what we saw. On stage, a group of Christians planned a trip to the Holy Land. They packed, met at the airport, flew across an ocean and put their feet down in the land of milk and honey.

There, a Jewish tour guide regaled them with stories of the Christ. Near a large tour bus, he told of Gabriel’s announcement, to Mary, the visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and Joseph’s concern when he found out about Mary’s pregnancy. At stage left, the tour guide’s words came to life.

During Act 2, fatigued tourist Fred took a siesta. He dreamed about Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, and triumphant resurrection. With precision and pageantry, the cast of 60 enacted Fred’s dreams and convinced us we were in the Holy Land, too. An additional 20 supported the drama—voice interpreters, costume designers, and lighting experts.

Orchestrated songs accompanied the play, and the hearing audience had the double pleasure of hearing the melodies and watching the praise in American Sign Language. The signing of “Breath of Heaven” and “Come as You Are” were especially poetic.

Long ago, at an inspirational musical concert, I sat behind a mother who interpreted for her deaf teenage daughter. The mother’s precious hands told her daughter of Christ’s love. That night, my understanding of “lifting holy hands” broadened. Again this month, thanksgiving arose for the beautiful hands that year round tell the Christmas Story.

During Jesus’ ministry, he literally opened the ears of the deaf. He healed. Today, the Christian Deaf World continues his mending mission. With passion they accept their heart-healing assignment to share the gospel. They lift holy hands and sign Jesus’ story about a stable, a star, a Savior, and a sacrifice.

“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll.” Isaiah 29:18

1 comment:

  1. Cathy-- this is beautiful.

    I can just picture it. I did my student teaching at a deaf school and got to work with a group of young performers. They went around to "hearing" schools and performed popular songs. They did funny songs like "Flying Purple People Eater" and "Walking in High Cotton" but my favorite was "God Bless the USA". That song still brings tears to my eyes when I picture those kids proclaiming a God they didn't even know.

    To have deaf performers proclaiming the Good News to their own culture and to the hearing world-- now that's beautiful.

    I'll be checking back often.