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A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

A Simple Life, a Childlike Faith

American Sign Language

 

This is a part of the Edgewood United Methodist Church News.  Think you will enjoy it.

American Sign Language

Written By Herb “Padre” Agee

Engle­wood United Methodist Church

Herb “Padre” Agee

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When I was 40 years old, I was pas­tor at a small, strug­gling, inner city church in Lake­land. I’m not sure where I got the idea, but I took a sign lan­guage class. The teacher was a deaf woman who was also an ordained Assem­bly of God min­is­ter. She had attended South­east­ern Col­lege in Lake­land, which is an Assem­bly of God school. I took sev­eral classes from her and started learn­ing to sign. I even took some classes at the com­mu­nity college.

The next year I moved to Rock­ledge to become the chap­lain at Wuesthoff Hos­pi­tal. After a while, some­one dis­cov­ered that I could sign a lit­tle bit. They started call­ing me when a deaf per­son came into the hos­pi­tal to reg­is­ter as a patient.

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I quickly informed those who needed to know that the hos­pi­tal was required by law to pro­vide “real” inter­preters for deaf patients and to have TTY’s avail­able so they could use the hos­pi­tal phone in their room. The TTY or TDDallows the phone to become a type­writer of sorts so the deaf patient can com­mu­ni­cate with fam­ily and friends who also have a TTY. Cell phones, tex­ting, the inter­net and emails have almost made the TTY sys­tem obso­lete, but at the time, it was the only way for the deaf to com­mu­ni­cate by phone.

We bought sev­eral to have avail­able and I made con­tact with some inter­preters to have on call if we needed them. This kept me from hav­ing to take the legal respon­si­bil­ity of sign­ing impor­tant med­ical infor­ma­tion between doc­tors, nurses and deaf patients. I wasn’t that good!

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One day, a deaf patient came in to reg­is­ter for a test with­out us know­ing he was com­ing. We usu­ally had an inter­preter there wait­ing for them. Not this time, so… “Who do you call?” You guessed it! The chaplain!

I went down to help with the reg­is­tra­tion process, think­ing that was all that was needed – but, no, he was hav­ing an ultra­sound of his kid­ney right after he reg­is­tered. There was no time to get an inter­preter and he did not want to have to come back later, so with his under­stand­ing of my lim­ited abil­ity to sign and read his sign­ing (oh, did he under­stand), we went into the test.

I tried to com­mu­ni­cate every­thing that was hap­pen­ing, but as they were doing the ultra­sound of the kid­ney, I was watch­ing the screen, which he could not see. He signed, “What’s going on?” I responded, “I think you’re pregnant.”

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I think all ultra­sounds look like a baby.

He laughed and laughed, and the tech­ni­cian looked at me, won­der­ing why he was laugh­ing dur­ing the test. I just shrugged as if I didn’t know. We made it through the test, though.

I later met his wife and went out to din­ner with them and some of their deaf friends one night. Grad­u­ally my con­nec­tion with the deaf and my sign­ing slowed until I lost touch and, as with any lan­guage, “use it or lose it.”

Recently I’ve been drawn back to sign lan­guage. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m 60 years old and many peo­ple I try to com­mu­ni­cate with are strug­gling with their hear­ing. Some of them have admit­ted to it and are try­ing to get use to hear­ing aids and some of them are liv­ing in denial and try­ing to get by with a lit­tle sound and a lit­tle lip reading.

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My niece has a child who’s a lit­tle over a year old. She and many other peo­ple are teach­ing their chil­dren some signs because babies can learn to com­mu­ni­cate with sign much ear­lier than they can talk.

Candy and I were dis­cussing this the other night and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if every­one was taught sign lan­guage as a child and as every­one talked they would also be sign­ing what they were say­ing? Then, if some­one started los­ing their hear­ing, they would always know what was being said because of the sign lan­guage.” No one would ever be kept out of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion, even the deaf. They would be able to com­mu­ni­cate with any­one and not feel iso­lated from the hear­ing community.

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Richard Stim­son, who leads The Spe­cial Gath­er­ing, which is a church for the men­tally chal­lenged, once told me a story. It was about a man whose whole min­istry as a pas­tor had been in the deaf com­mu­nity. As he sat beside the bed of a deaf saint who was dying, he asked her, “What do you look for­ward to most about heaven?” Her reply was, “That every­one will know how to sign.” She had no con­cept of want­ing to “hear,” but she wanted to be able to “com­mu­ni­cate” with everyone.

Guess what? God knows sign language!

I’m study­ing ASL again. I’m not sure why. If I lose my hear­ing com­pletely; none of my friends or fam­ily will know sign lan­guage. But, maybe I will be able to slip into the deaf com­mu­nity for friend­ship and communication.

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Any­way, if any of you are inter­ested in learn­ing ASL, which is Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage, be sure to check out the web­site: www.lifeprint.com. It is a great learn­ing site, and it’s free.

Maybe God has a new min­istry for me down the road — deaf motor­cy­cle rid­ers. Who knew? But with the loud pipes and road noise, it could hap­pen. Unfor­tu­nately, most of the bik­ers only know one sign. You’ve prob­a­bly seen it used in traffic.

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