Little Tom Jackson says when the Holy Spirit began impressing the need to learn sign language upon him, he didn’t know why. Out of obedience, Jackson bought some books and learned as many words as possible. Then he says the Holy Spirit nudged him to go back to college, and he enrolled in an American Sign Language (ASL) English interpretation program. He still didn’t understand the reason.
After he became the pastor of Oak Brook Community Deaf Church in Illinois in 2011, Jackson says he realized why God wanted him to learn about deaf culture. Ministering to the deaf required understanding a cultural minority as distinct as those of different ethnic groups.
According to Jackson, in a deaf church, communication is key. For example, Jackson says deaf people raise their hands in church when they need clarity.
An attendee of Oak Brook Community Deaf Church since 2009, Marlene Clemens says she appreciates Jackson’s ability to communicate using ASL. Her husband, Kyle, agrees, saying having a pastor who knows sign language helps them stay focused on God’s Word. The small congregation of about 30 also benefits from PowerPoint presentations.
Originally a deaf person at church taught Jackson’s wife, Jenna, to sign. The church’s ongoing sign language class also has helped, but Jenna said she is still learning. A communications coach and administrator, Jenna usually works behind the scenes responding to God’s personal call “to help people see themselves as God sees them.”
For many of the deaf, finding a job that reinforces this positive self-image isn’t easy.
“The majority of the deaf community only have a fifth-grade education,” Jackson says. Hearing parents tend to shelter deaf children and may not teach them important life concepts, he says.
That’s why — in addition to his day job with the Chicago Public Schools system teaching educators how to help young children learn to read — Jackson works nights teaching the deaf. Using Scriptures, Jackson coaches church members on their responsibilities, encouraging them to become leaders.
Those raised in institutions are often taught to be suspicious of hearing people. Before they can receive the Holy Spirit, they may need to break free from that prejudice, according to Jackson. In addition, Jackson says the deaf often are taught that if they sign ASL, they shouldn’t speak out loud.
“But the Word of God says to make a joyful noise,” he says.
Jenna has been delighted to hear the deaf use their voices while speaking in tongues.
“We’re all so much alike,” she says.
The Clemens thinks so, too. They want hearing believers to join them.
“We treat each other like brothers and sisters in Christ,” Kyle says. “Deaf believers can fellowship with and help teach sign language to hearing believers.”
Pictured: Jenna and Little Tom Jackson
Source: AG News