The Deaf Praise Jehovah
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN NIGERIA
FOR many years it was difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nigeria to teach the Bible to deaf people. This was due to the shortage of Witnesses who knew sign language. But that is changing. More and more Witnesses have learned sign language and are reaching the deaf population. A major step in this development was a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in Nigeria over a year ago.
“You could feel the excitement in the air,” said a delegate to that convention, in Ota, Nigeria. “There was a sense of awe, a feeling of wonder,” said another. What prompted such sentiments? For the first time in Nigeria, the entire program was interpreted into sign language. This was the only convention out of the 96 held throughout the country during the year where this was done.
Among the thousands attending were 43 deaf delegates, who sat to the left of the platform, in the front section. Above them hung a large white board with red lettering that read, “Sign Language.” The deaf delegates were thrilled to be there. One of them wrote: “It is with immense joy and teary eyes that I write. Only ‘yesterday’ we were biting our lips as we learned of the spiritual provisions made for our deaf fellow Christians in other lands. Little did we know that the same blessings would come to us here.”
Deaf people came from all parts of Nigeria. One deaf Witness brought three of her deaf Bible students. Another group of deaf ones, who traveled 430 miles [700 km] each way, had been saving transportation money for seven months. However, when the time came to travel, they could not charter a vehicle from the state transport company because it was the holiday season. When the state government learned of their difficulty, it gave them 13,000 naira ($152, U.S.) to help with alternative transport!
Families with deaf children traveled to attend this unique convention. One woman from a rural area heard about the convention and came with her deaf son. Neither she nor her son knew much about sign language. Moved to tears by what they saw, they are now determined to learn sign language.
Of the thousands in attendance, some had come from hundreds of miles away just to see how the deaf would “hear” the program. The attendance on Sunday was 13,936—the highest number at any of the 96 district conventions in Nigeria. The deaf delegates were delighted to be part of that multitude.
Many of the deaf were “hearing” the good news in sign language for the first time. And those who could hear were seeing sign language for the first time. One delegate said that he was astonished to see everything on the program interpreted—songs, prayers, announcements, and even the drama! “It has been overwhelming,” said another.
The joy of the deaf delegates was reflected in their singing. Enthusiastically, they used their hands to praise Jehovah. For hearing ones, watching the deaf “sing” was a most touching experience. It brought tears to many eyes. A delegate was heard exclaiming, “O Jehovah!” in appreciative awe. Once, when a song ended, those seated near the sign-language section broke out in spontaneous applause.
After the baptism talk, as baptismal candidates stood up, a young man in the sign-language section also stood up. Murmurs of appreciation rippled through the audience when he signed “yes” in answer to the two questions asked by the speaker.
What a joy it was for the deaf delegates to meet their spiritual brothers and sisters from other parts of the country! Arms and fingers moved excitedly as the deaf got to know one another. There was much shaking of hands and exchanging of addresses.
Nine interpreters (signers) came from various parts of the country. It was beautiful to watch as their hands and arms gracefully signed all the talks and songs. For their efforts they were rewarded with hugs, handshakes, and commendation. They were besieged with questions too: How did you learn? How can I learn? Are there books that teach sign language?
A New Field Opens
For the deaf, a highlight of the convention was the release on videotape of a sign-language version of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life. More were urged to learn sign language and, with the help of this teaching aid, to reach out to deaf ones throughout Nigeria. The convention made many determined to do just that.
“In the past when we met a deaf person in the field ministry, we just went on to the next house,” said a sister. “Now, we know what to do.” With an estimated five million hearing-impaired Nigerians, there is certainly vast potential. A brother said: “This is a beginning. Now we need to cultivate this unique new field.”
In the months since the convention, that is just what has taken place. Concerted efforts are being made to teach the truths of God’s Word to the millions in Nigeria who are hearing-impaired. These too need to learn about the good news of the incoming new world under God’s Kingdom, for there miraculous healing will occur and “the very ears of the deaf ones will be unstopped.”—Isaiah 35:5.