LMC’s Mission for many Languages~American Sign Languages

First Deaf Mennonite Church

by Debra Hoffer

First Deaf Mennonite Church was formed by parents of deaf children in 1945. It is entering its 77th year in 2022. Parents wanted their children to know about Jesus in their own language, which is American Sign Language (ASL). They can worship and know about Jesus. Jesus knows all languages. Praise the Lord that we can know and worship Jesus Christ our Lord. During worship at First Deaf, the pastor uses ASL and PowerPoint to preach and share God’s message. Each Sunday we have a worship leader and song leader from the congregation. The song leader uses ASL and sometimes uses a rhythm box so we can feel the beats to make music. Voice interpretation is provided for the hearing who worship with us. The average attendance is between 15-20 members and attendees. First Deaf is in partnership with Witmer Heights Mennonite Church. Both congregations share the building. One congregation worships while the other has Sunday School. Then the groups switch.

Keystone Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service rents two rooms in the basement. This service provides expertise, interpretation, and services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people in our community. Keystone Deaf has Deaf Game Night for the community. We start with devotions, then play games, eat snacks, and have fellowship.

Isaiah 29:18  And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book…

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, formal language with the same linguistic properties as spoken languages. ASL is expressed by movements of the hands, face, and body. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing. ASL is a language completely separate and distinct from English, and it does not have a written form. Sign language users still need to learn the written language of their region. Different sign languages are used in different countries or regions. For example, British Sign Language is a different language from ASL, and Americans who know ASL may not understand BSL. 

The beginnings of ASL are not clear. Some suggest it emerged about two centuries ago with the intermixing of local sign languages and French Sign Language (like a creole). Modern ASL has evolved into a rich, complex, and mature language with its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order. Just like other languages, ASL has regional accents and dialects with variations in the rhythm of signing, pronunciation, slang, and signs used. Fingerspelling is part of ASL and can spell out English words. In the fingerspelled alphabet, each letter corresponds to a distinct hand shape. Fingerspelling is often used for proper names or to indicate the English word for something.

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