My post for the summer blog tour “Love in Action” features an interview with Terrell Smith. I met her while visiting First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land Texas. I was totally captivated by Terrell Smith who used American Sign Language to interpreted the service for those hearing impaired in attendance that day.
As she signed with a wonderful sense of timing and musical feeling conveyed in each song, I thought “God thru the Arts!” and what a wonderful way to feature the blessed heart of this dear woman who heard God’s call and answered. I hope this little interview will inspire you to start your own program or maybe step out and take a chance when you hear God’s voice calling you to Love in Action!
Dear Terrell, I was very impressed last Sunday when I watched you sign the praise songs. Can you tell us just a little about who you are and about your special ministry?
My name is Terrell Smith, and I’ve been attending First Colony Church of Christ, in Sugar Land Texas for about 18 years. I help interpret for the deaf in our first service on Sunday mornings, and it’s been a joy to become involved in serving in this manner.
I was particularly impressed with the musicality of your signing. I could feel the emotion behind every word. Can you tell us a little about your musical background? Was there someone who was a big influence on you?
Using facial expressions to convey the meaning of the message is part of American Sign Language, so we are “supposed to” convey emotions as we interpret. I do have a musical background, though; I took piano lessons for many of my elementary years, was a percussionist in middle school and high school, sang in the choir in high school, and I played with a local community orchestra for about a decade. My biggest influence I would have to say was my main ASL teacher at church. Yvonne Butler is deaf, and she “sings” beautifully through her signing. I have learned so much from her and others as I have tried to learn the language.
I’m interested in hearing about the process for learning to sign for the deaf in worship service. How long did it take you to feel comfortable enough to interpret a church service?
When I came to First Colony, I had very little background in sign language. I knew the ABC’s and a few “church words” like Jesus, Christ, Lord, and love. We had a couple of ASL classes through the first several years I worshiped there, and knowing some basics helped me to learn a great deal just by watching the interpreters on Sunday mornings.
After about 8-10 years of attending classes and watching and learning, Yvonne began a class for a few of us on Wednesday evenings to specifically learn to sign/interpret the songs in our worship. After another year, I think, I felt like I knew enough to be able to begin to interpret a song or two in our church services. From there, my skills continued to grow until I began to interpret all the songs, prayers and announcements in the worship service. Eventually, I also began to interpret the lesson being taught. The strange thing about this is I NEVER thought I would be doing this type of thing. When I said that out loud, I think God laughed… It’s been a long process, and it’s really nothing I did. God was always at the heart of it. I just held on and tried to not get in His way!
I understand what you mean. I never thought I would want to do public speaking. Growing up, I always thought speaking in front of others looked very scary and I was happy to let others be up front, but now I am leading retreats and speaking at workshops. God is always working in surprising ways if you let him. Do you have a bible passage that speaks to the heart of your ministry?
When I read the passage in Matthew 19 where Jesus tells his disciples to let the little children come to Him, I think of some of the people I’ve met through our deaf ministry. Many were not brought to church as physical children, and I sense in them a sort of “spiritual childhood” and with that comes a pure hunger for God’s word. They want to learn about God, and I think Jesus welcomes them as He did the little children in that passage. Thinking on this I realize weekly, “What a blessing to be able to help them get to know Jesus!”
Can you tell us a little more about the specific needs you have noticed while working with the hearing impaired? What do you mean by the “spiritual childhood” you are witnessing as you interpret for them in worship?
In the past, because they might have been considered distracting to others, some parents were not comfortable bringing hearing impaired children to church. And it can also be difficult to find a church that has sign language interpretation for these young ones. Thus, a great number of these precious souls don’t know the familiar Bible stories those of us in the hearing world learned in our Sunday school classes. It’s wonderful to get to share these beloved Bible stories with many of them for the first time.
Do you have a specific story of someone who has been blessed by what you all are doing at First Colony Church of Christ?
I think I’m the one who’s been blessed! I have learned so much about grace since getting involved in our deaf ministry. Our deaf brothers and sisters at First Colony know that I am trying my best and that I make mistakes. They gently correct and encourage me, and they “give me credit” for trying. It’s humbling and a wonderful example of God’s grace!
In closing, can you share with us what surprised you the most about working with the deaf community?
I am amazed at God’s power. That’s such a silly thing to say for someone who grew up going to church and has always believed in God. But I so surprised that I am involved in this at all and that I have been given the opportunity to serve in this way. As I said, I didn’t do this at all! God is at work, no question about it. And I am so very thankful!
God thru the Arts: www.godthruthearts.com
Jennifer teaches flute to children and adults of all ages and levels of experience and has been a part of Shepherd College & Mount Saint Mary’s University faculty and Millbrook Orchestra. Currently she is adjunct faculty at Frederick Community College .
Her work in the community also includes an active lecture series called: God thru the Arts where she works to link the spiritual connections throughout all arts. Author of My Dancing Day: Reflections of the Incarnation in Art and Music and The Joyful Sound: Reflections on the Life of Christ in Art and Music and has been a speaker at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures in Malibu CA, Tulsa Workshop in Tulsa OK, David Lipscomb University Summer Celebration in Nashville TN, Rochester College Streaming in Rochester Hills Michigan and Fort Detrick Prayer Breakfast in Frederick MD.