Singing in Sign Language

This week I am featuring a very special guest blogger – my wife, Dayle. Enjoy.

I was thinking, “I better turn off my phone ringer.” Then I remembered that I was attending a worship service for the Deaf. Who would it bother? Cool. Then Ed phoned me  and my first reaction was to quick answer to stop the ringing. Then I relaxed. Sound is not where it’s all happening here.

Leading deaf worship

Emmanuel Acheampong, main translator, leading the worship team

I was at the a dedication of the first ever portions of Scripture translated into Ghana Sign Language done by DOOR (Deaf Opportunity OutReach; a Wycliffe Affiliate). People were starting to gather to begin the program.

Deaf Youth Choir

Deaf school choir signing a lively song.

How can someone sing without sound?  Vibration, movement, heart, mind and some elbow room are where it’s at! The singing reminded me of cheer leading. The cheering was for Jesus. “Who are you going to live for?”  “Je-sus, Je-sus!”  “Who are you going to look to?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” “Who are you going to serve?” “Je-sus, Je-sus!” The drums play the beat and everyone feeling the vibration can keep right in step with the songs, moving left and right when appropriate, clapping or signing. The Deaf school choirs were very impressive with their choreography combined with the sign language.


Drummer - an indispensable accompaniment to Deaf worship, everyone feels the vibrations and keep the same rhythm

When you were a kid at church, did you dislike bowing your head and closing your eyes to pray? You don’t have to if you are deaf. Everyone LOOKS. While the person who is signing is praying, he is not necessarily closing his eyes. He is looking up. I love the sign for “amen”. Hold your left palm out in front of you facing up. Hit it with your right hand formed into a fist, on the little finger side of the fist. It feels like a solid, “AMEN”.

During the service there were a few fussy babies, not disturbing anyone but their moms. It was the few little ones who got away from their parents and began entertaining the masses out in front, who were able to distract from the program! And they could dance! They were met with laughter, understanding and even some appreciation.

Holding up DVDs and storyboards

Deaf translation team holding up DVDs and storyboards of the translation

Signing is so logical and many of the signs happen around the part of the upper torso where the process of the meaning happens. Thinking is up at the forehead. Feeling, owning, love, happiness, sorry, are all at the heart area. The mouth gets eating, sweet, talking and so forth. One of my favorites is “funny”, which is signed around the nose and the eyes are squinted!  Even though I had practiced for 3 days to read some sign language, it was impossible to keep up watching the Deaf communicating with each other. Their hands are very nimble and flexible and they “speed read”!The more I participate in sign language, the more the latent linguist in me comes to life and questions begin multiplying like snow gathering on a snow ball rolling down a snowy hill. It is like Christmas morning with a new item that must be assembled and has hundreds of pieces and you can’t wait to use it once it is built. The sign language translation was distributed on DVD (with a person signing it) and on “storyboards” which are books with drawing of the signs.

Communicating in sign language takes out lots of words we would use, putting whole thoughts into one sign. More can be said in a hurry. There is so much to learn about all the implications of Sign Language Bible translation. My heart is completely crushed when I think that it is only now, today, that Deaf  people are seeing Scripture in their heart language for the first time. Chagrin and deep sorrow. How did they have to wait so long? Then it switches to ecstatic anticipation of what God is going to do with His Word to the Deaf ones. A whole new world has opened up to them and they are now hearing God speak their language. They will be sending missionaries to minister around the world. We are at the edge of powerful changes.  God is at work. Who are we going to look to? Who are we going to live for? Who are we going to serve? Jesus! Hands down.


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4 thoughts on “Singing in Sign Language

  1. “Miss” DAYLE…. A delightful post. It’s JESUS, hands down–in every language, everywhere, every moment, everyday…forever! sam and charlotte


  2. So touching! I’m amazed at how everyone can praise God in a meaningful way in his/her own language, even in a sign language!!! You are so blessed to work with these people and to praise God with them. Blessings to you, my dear Mama Dayle 🙂


  3. This was so interesting, Dayle. I never thought about the Word of God in sign language. I mean, they can read it. But to “sing” it and enter into it with their whole beings! To have it in their mother “tongue”! Awesome.


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