Offering a sign language interpreter to spread the word of God in some area churches is a great community asset, but at Bible Baptist Church, interpretation alone isn’t enough when saying you offer a deaf ministry.
“Ministry means that you are ministering like you would to any other segment of society,” said Renee Kinney, director of the church’s deaf ministries located at 2113 Morgan Johnson Road.
Kinney holds a Sunday school class where both deaf and hearing church members study sign language and watch videos of a YouTube deaf missionary the church supports. The lessons are held in what Kinney called simultaneous communication because it is both in voice and sign language.
“So the hearing understand it but they can see the sign language so they are learning, and for the deaf, it is totally their language,” Kinney said.
Sign language is the fourth most used language in the United States, but Kinney said many deaf people don’t learn sign language until their early adult years. And too often, their family members never learn it all.
“It’s not unusual,” she said. “One of our deaf is 23 and grew up in a household sitting around a dining room table and nobody knew sign. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents who never in their lifetime could hold a meaningful conversation with their child. They feel very isolated.”
The thought of a deaf child feeling that kind of isolation moves to Kinney to tears every time. “It just touches my heart,” she said.
Kinney said it’s still part of that old-school mentality where parents believed that learning to fend for yourself was the best teaching tool. Many deaf people relied on lip reading growing up, but Kinney said the average deaf person understands about a third of what people are saying when trying to lip read.
They say to me the difference between me and you is the fact that you can hear and I can’t. We just speak a different language.
Renee Kinney, director of deaf ministries for Bible Baptist Church
“We accommodate languages like Spanish, but how often do we see sign language interpreters offered? Deaf people are great, but you would never call them handicapped,” she said. “They would get very offended. They say to me the difference between me and you is the fact that you can hear and I can’t. We just speak a different language.”
According to Dawn Suttle, the church’s executive secretary, Bible Baptist Church, established in 1979, has offered interpreters off and on since the church opened.
“But probably in the last 12 years it has been very consistent,” said Suttle.
Kinney said when she first started she also believed that just offering interpretation was ministry.
“I didn’t recognize the difference,” she said. “As long as we were doing that, what other connection could they need? But they do and there is more to ministry than just interpretation. We have fellowships where our deaf and hearing get together. We have several of our hearing who have learned sign language just because they want to talk to each other. It’s very unique and much more of a deaf ministry than it used to be. So we are not at the beginning and not at the end, but definitely in the middle with growing our deaf ministry.”
Several of the church’s children are learning sign language to connect with any deaf children who may come to the church. There also is a hearing and deaf choir that performs. Music isn’t necessarily a big part of a deaf person’s life, but Kinney said, “Hearing what is being sung is one thing, but seeing it, really seeing it affects your heart. They crave fellowship.”
The church hopes to grow the ministry. Kinney said the immediate goal is to be available for any deaf in the area, but eventually wants to start a deaf visitation program. Suttle said the church also is going to look into offering closed caption for their live streaming services. The broader goal for Kinney is to just get people to understand that deaf people are not different, they just speak another language.
“We have a community Christian school offering sign language as a foreign language option,” Kinney said. “That’s the way it should be. If sign language is our fourth most used language in the United States, then there should be an avenue for kids to learn it.”
Bible Baptist Church averages about 850 people on any given Sunday. Suttle said the church is a “fundamental independent Baptist church so we have no hierarchy telling us what we have to do.”
The church preaches from the King James version of the Bible and believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that He died on the cross to save mankind. What separates the Baptist faith from others, “Is that you don’t get to pick and choose and decide on what you want to take or don’t take from the Bible. You have to take it as a whole. It’s what the Bible says, not what you say,” Suttle said.