Speaking the Language of the Deaf

Twenty years ago, before I joined The Salvation Army, I attended Robles de Justicia Christian Church in Puerto Rico. During a Tuesday service, I saw a beautiful young woman walk in with her boyfriend. The woman sat down and began to carefully watch the pastor speak. My friend Betsy Morales, a sign language interpreter for the government of Puerto Rico who also attended the church, walked up to the couple, sat next to the woman, and began interpreting what the pastor was saying.

That was the moment I became captivated by sign language. For a year, I joined Betsy in taking sign language courses. I will always remember the day she announced to the ministry that she would start a program for the deaf and people who wanted to learn sign language. I prayed to God for His guidance on this endeavor, and He responded with Isaiah 29:18 “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”

I served as an interpreter and a sign language teacher in our new ministry for the deaf. Eventually, our ministry had grown so much that we no longer needed to have an interpreter, but rather an entire service for the deaf ministry itself. One of our deaf members took on the responsibility of being the pastor for the service.

An unwritten language

Sign language is used primarily by the deaf, and it is more accessible than the act of “reading lips.” Sign language is visual and is aided by expressions of the hands and face that will help the deaf understand and perceive description and details such as smells and colors.

It is easy to forget how much information one who is not deaf attains through hearing. Every aspect of information that deaf people gather is because they either read it or because it was translated through sign language. Today, many schools and colleges offer courses on American Sign Language (ASL), the primary language of the deaf in North America. Dance groups, including those from The Salvation Army, incorporate sign language into performance routines.

Using our talents

Today, members of our old Puerto Rico ministry continue to work with the deaf. One of them founded the Department of Languages for the Deaf at the University of Puerto Rico. Two others work as interpreters through Skype for schools and hospitals. My husband, Major Guillermo DiCaterina, and I became Salvationists and enrolled in the College for Officer Training in Suffern, N.Y. But even as an officer, I have used sign language to spread God’s message.

In 2012, during my officership at the Buffalo (Temple) N.Y., Corps, a couple named Luis and Ileana arrived in the United States from Puerto Rico just as winter was approaching. Luis was deaf and their family, which included daughters Paola and Alana, needed help with social services.

When the family noticed that there was someone at the corps who could communicate with Luis through sign language, they attended services regularly. To better communicate with Luis, Ileana became more serious about learning sign language. Their daughters also participated in the corps music program.

Eventually, the family became soldiers. My husband and I were asked by Luis and Ileana to officiate their marriage. Today, they all still attend the corps. Welcoming them to God is a testimony to the wonderful things that the Lord can do using our talents and gifts for His Glory.

by Major Arlene DiCaterina

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