Reach­ing deaf ears

New­ton County cou­ple uses sign lan­guage to spread Gospel

The Covington News - - RELIGION - By Michelle Kim

The Footes may be one of the few cou­ples in New­ton County who can evan­ge­lize with­out mak­ing a sound. They’ve been us­ing Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage as a part of their min­istry since 1969 when they first started reach­ing out to the deaf com­mu­nity, with Leon Foote preach­ing and his wife Brenda Foote in­ter­pret­ing into ALS.

It all be­gan when the Footes, who now at­tend Canaan Bap­tist Church when they’re not on the road evan­ge­liz­ing, were liv­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia where Leon was a pas­tor of a church.

There was a young deaf man who played for an­other church in their lo­cal soft­ball league. Leon be­came in­ter­ested in his spir­i­tual state and tried to ask him through writ­ten

“T hey have their own world, their own lan­guage. They can’t en­ter into our world. We have to en­ter theirs.”

notes whether he was saved.

“ He was very po­lite,” said Leon. “ I’d write want some­thing on the pa­per, and he’d say yes, but he didn’t un­der­stand half of what I was say­ing.”

The Footes had been to the Bill Rice Ranch in Ten­nessee, a Chris­tian camp orig­i­nally founded for the deaf, and had heard that un­less con­cepts like sal­va­tion and res­ur­rec­tion had been ex­plained in sign lan­guage, the deaf of­ten did not un­der­stand.

“ It was just for­eign to them,” Brenda said.

ALS, a pic­to­ri­ally- based lan­guage, is as dif­fer­ent from English

— Dr.

Leon Foote

Evan­ge­list

as any other for­eign lan­guage, Brenda ex­plained. Those dif­fer­ences can of­ten lead to dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing writ­ten English. A deaf per­son might not rec­og­nize a word writ­ten out or sign- spelled, she said, but they might know it when you sign it.

In the 70s, not many hear­ing peo­ple knew ALS and the deaf were still largely ig­nored by the church com­mu­nity.

“ They have their own world, their own lan­guage,” said Leon. “ They can’t en­ter into our world. We have to en­ter theirs.”

So they in­vited Bill Rice and his wife, who in­ter­preted into ALS, to their church specif­i­cally to hold a re­vival for the deaf. That week, they were able to reach peo­ple in the deaf com­mu­nity who had never be­fore un­der­stood the mes­sages at church, in­clud­ing the young man who had sparked the Footes’ in­ter­est and who would be­come a preacher to the deaf.

This started nearly four decades of out­reach to the deaf com­mu­nity, with Leon preach­ing and Brenda in­ter­pret­ing. Their min­istries have taken them from Alaska to Nova Sco­tia, Mex­ico to Ohio. They’ve met deaf com­mu­ni­ties in all parts of the world.

They’ve also held a camp for the deaf ev­ery year since 1971 in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Brenda, who also in­ter­prets, ini­tially doubted she would able to learn ALS at all.

In school, she had ex­pe­ri­enced trou­ble learn­ing any­thing that re­quired rote mem­o­riza­tion, such as the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­bles or learn­ing dates in his­tory.

But, she said, “the Lord gave me a bur­den for the deaf, see­ing there was such a need there.” She thought to her­self, “If I can learn it, I will learn it.”

She did even­tu­ally learn it and was paid a won­der­ful com­pli­ment af­ter in­ter­pret­ing a ser­mon when a deaf mother took aside her hear­ing daugh­ter, who was a cer­ti­fied ALS in­ter­preter, and pointed Brenda out to her.

“That’s the way you in­ter­pret,” signed the mother. Brenda had made the ser­mon sim­ple, un­der­stand­able and had acted it out for the deaf parish­ioners.

Brenda makes it clear that in­ter­pre­ta­tion is more than just trans­la­tion.

“ In­ter­pret­ing is giv­ing the (speaker’s) thoughts and mean­ings,” she said. “It’s not trans­lat­ing word for word from one lan­guage to an­other. You can’t do that in sign lan­guage be­cause there aren’t that many signs.”

Brenda of­ten finds her­self sign­ing while she sings.

“If I’m singing a song that’s touch­ing my heart, my hands are go­ing,” she said.

She also in­ten­tion­ally signs while she singing at church even if there are no deaf in the con­gre­ga­tion, she said, to make the church aware there might be deaf in their area that need an in­ter­preter to un­der­stand the gospel and to help in­di­vid­ual mem­bers re­al­ize sign lan­guage is a real lan­guage.

More re­cently, the Footes find it harder to reach the deaf be­cause there are more clubs and ac­tiv­i­ties for them, they said.

It’s es­ti­mated that over 600,000 peo­ple in the United States are deaf or sig­nif­i­cantly hear­ing im­paired, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Sta­tis­tics.

In ad­di­tion to Canaan Bap­tist Church in Cov­ing­ton, New­ton Bap­tist Church of Cov­ing­ton and Spring­field Bap­tist Church in Cony­ers have deaf min­istries that can pro­vide in­ter­pre­ta­tion dur­ing ser­mons.

Mandi Singer/The Covin­gotn News

Spread­ing the word:

Dr. Leon Foote, left, reads scrip­ture from the Book of John as his wife Brenda Foote in­ter­prets his words via Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage.

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