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Go! Sign proclaims the gospel in BSL

A deaf-led Christian charity is increasing deaf people's access to the gospel and church life

If you consider the languages of the world or the question, If I could communicate in another language for a day, what would it be?”, would the many different sign languages from around the globe such as Auslan (Australian Sign Language), LSF (Langue des Signes Française), ISL (Irish Sign Language) or even BSL (British Sign Language) feature on your list?

They were not on mine. Interestingly, though, they featured on the list’ of former Evangelical Alliance employee Lucy Cooper. I felt God calling me to learn BSL,” she says. I have a real heart for giving deaf people access to the gospel and going that step further and seeing them with full participation and leadership in church life.” Lucy is now a trainee sign language interpreter and shows commitment not only to learning the language, but to the deaf community.

The UK’s deaf community

It is within this community that the national, deaf-led Christian charity Go! Sign is based. The charity’s mission, as seen in its strapline, is to share Jesus and empower the lives of deaf people. Unlike the majority of Christian organisations in the UK, Go! Sign’s events, training and trustee meetings are held in BSL, with an interpreter in situ so that hearing people can access the events too.

The British Deaf Association estimates that there are 87,000 deaf people in the UK who use BSL, as well as many hearing BSL users. This figure represents a signing community with a shared culture, amazing storytelling, a great sense of humour, beautiful poetry, and a common history. This history includes the stories of deaf men and woman who have faced the challenges of misunderstanding, discrimination or oppression in a hearing world’. 

The deaf community has not typically included those who have lost their hearing as teenagers or adults, although increasingly many of these deafened people are also benefiting from learning to communicate in BSL.

Making church life accessible for deaf people

Go! Sign is acutely aware of the challenges deaf people face and the extent to which they struggle with understanding key components of faith and assuming a full role in the body of Christ. Deaf people are not able to walk into any church service and grasp the message, unless an interpreter is present. Indeed, a few churches employ interpreters, but for deaf people, and as we see in Acts 2, the day of Pentecost, receiving the gospel in your own language can be life changing.

Speaking of his personal experiences growing up, John Delve, Go! Sign’s chairman, says, When I was a boy I went to an Open Brethren church that didn’t cater to deaf people. I found it incredibly boring because I wasn’t able to engage with the preaching, teaching and music. I used to watch the clock, waiting for the church service to end. Had it not been for a Deaf Christian Fellowship (DCF) church that I discovered when I was 15 years old, I might have stopped going to church altogether. Everything was in BSL and it changed my life. A lot of deaf people have a similar experience to mine.” 

So, the charity, which was formerly known as Christian Deaf Link UK, has over the past few years trained and supported deaf people to preach and teach and gospel. This essential training has equipped the deaf community with people more skilled to explain the good news about Jesus in their own language. Though, this is just one example of Go! Sign’s mission work. The charity also runs Bible weekends and organises local Bible study groups through its roadshow to enable deaf people to fellowship and embark on communal Bible study, as well as leads a range of other programmes and produces a string of useful resources. 

John comments, Many deaf people don’t have their own church and lack opportunities to fellowship with other Christians. What we at Go! Sign do to improve their Christian experience is encapsulated in the acronym GRACE. We support the personal and spiritual growth of deaf people; we encourage deaf people, who can be really lonely, to attend events and meet with their peers in order to renew their faith; we provide resources so that they can access the information they need; we help churches engage effectively with deaf people; and we run programmes and initiatives, such as Deaf Youth for Christ, to support targeted evangelism.”

Continuing a legacy

Go! Sign is building on a legacy that was established many years ago by Deaf Christian Fellowship, which closed in 1990 after serving deaf Christians in the UK for four decades. I went to a DCF church in Victoria in London when I was a teen, and it kept me with Christ Jesus,” says John. Not only did this organisation do so much for deaf people like me, but it shows deaf and hearing Christians how God worked through the deaf community and what deaf followers of Jesus were able to achieve by His grace. We have to continue this much-needed ministry, which is why Go! Sign exists today.”

To commemorate DCF and highlight how God has worked through deaf people, John wrote a book A History of the Deaf Christian Fellowship (19501990). It’s taken 14 years of extensive research to produce this book,” says John. As Go! Sign moves forward, as the Holy Spirit leads, and continues to increase access to church life in the deaf community, and preach the gospel to those who don’t believe, I want Christians to be able to look back and see how God worked through deaf people in the past. In some ways it’s similar to the Bible, in that the scriptures reflect on the various victories of the preceding years while pointing to the future.”

Anna Smith, British Sign Language interpreter, contributed to this article.

About the author

After asking God to bless her with the right role at a God-centred organisation, Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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