How did you find out about the needs of the hearing-impaired?
I was first intrigued by this ministry during a church service when the interpreter for the deaf caught my eye. I initially thought the language was really cool, which might seem like a very superficial reason, but that was one of the motivating factors which made me want to join the ministry. I started out just for fun but I soon realised that interpreters are in need in Singapore. There are about 500,000 who are hearing impaired in the whole of Singapore, and if I’m not wrong, there are only four interpreters for churches in Singapore. I wanted to start interpreting in church as I didn’t want to learn a skill and put it to waste. I was 17 years old when I joined the ministry for the hearing impaired in my church.
As I got to know more people in the ministry, I was increasingly motivated to learn how to communicate effectively. Sometimes I think I know all of the vocabulary but when it comes to actually having a conversation, I really struggle. It is actually very difficult to form sentences! After awhile, I started making friends with the deaf and that was when they started opening up and sharing their struggles with me. I felt like I was stepping into a whole new culture!
Was it intimidating to get involved since you didn’t have prior experience?
Yes, I was very intimidated initially! There are around 40-50 deaf people in my church. We have a dinner on Saturday in church for the hearing-impaired to gather and interact together, and for the first few meals, I remember sitting at my seat feeling so lost amidst all the conversations that were happening all around me. Even though I passed all the stages of sign language classes, I was struggling to catch on to everything. But that was when I realised that that’s how the deaf might feel every day in their interactions with us! For example, some of them have jobs and they have to rely on reading lips (which is very difficult!) for understanding.
What struggles do you face in this ministry?
One struggle I face is interpreting for preachers who speak too quickly! There was once during service when this happened and I actually didn’t really understand what he was saying at all, but I still had to try to sign the gist of what he was saying. After the sermon, I went up to a guy from the deaf ministry and asked if he understood what I was signing, as I only understood first of the two points the preacher had made! Strangely enough, he said that he didn’t understand the first point. But, for the second point which I didn’t understand, he did! It was so funny because he ended up explaining the second point to me — when I was actually the interpreter! That day, I learnt a humbling lesson that God is truly the one who gives understanding to His people, not my skills in sign language. I cannot interpret and sign for others without God’s empowerment too.
Another challenge is the interesting fact that deaf people all sign differently! For example, some of them sign with a lot of gestures, whilst others sign word for word. As sign language encompasses facial expressions, their body movements, and non-signing cues, I’ve slowly learnt to observe their facial expressions and non-verbal cues to aid me better in conversations too.
I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT USING MY SKILLS TO MAKE THE WORD OF GOD ACCESSIBLE TO MORE DEAF PEOPLE.
What is a highlight of serving in the ministry for the hearing-impaired?
An interesting encounter I experienced was a one-off field trip to a church I attended last year. I was very blown away when I realised that the entire service was conducted by deaf people — even the pastor was deaf! For worship, there was only one man on drums, coupled with karaoke-like lyrics on the screen. The drummer counted “1,2,3” and everyone signed together to the lyrics! As I sat in for the sermon that day, I thought to myself that it was very interesting to have a deaf pastor as he can identify with the needs of the audience and better connect with them on a more personal level. That is something that not many churches have!
What has this experience taught you about how the church should love all its members?
One verse that really motivates what I do is Romans 10:17 — “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (ESV). If people are not even given the opportunity to hear the Word of God, how will they be able to have faith? In the third world countries, the Bible is written in the spoken language but not in sign language. Furthermore, a lot of deaf people in those countries are illiterate, which makes it an even greater struggle for them to understand the Word for themselves. That breaks my heart and hence I am passionate about using my skills to make the Word of God accessible to more deaf people.
What other ways do you think God is calling you to serve this group?
Currently, I serve once a month in church as a translator during sermons. However, another avenue that I am compelled to serve more is my workplace. As a preschool educator, I have opportunities to work with deaf children and children of deaf adults (CODA). Once, there was this girl that had a lot of behavioural issues and I realised that she was a child of a pair of deaf parents. My skills and background in sign language really helped because I was able to step in and communicate with her parents effectively and partner together with them for their daughter. I felt like God was showing me how my ministries can come together, and that they are not just limited to the church but for the community at large.
Any encouragement for girls who want to join a new ministry but are afraid to?
Just do it. Doing something completely new can seem very intimidating but it might not be so when you just step out and do it. Most of the time, my thoughts were what scared me the most, not the actual doing itself. Also, get a friend to join you — that really motivated me in the process of learning sign language too!