Left to right: Alayna Davis, Salma Huerta, MJ Latta, Mikayla Register, Kaitlin Covington, and Kyleigh Wynn signing “I Love You” at a VSU BCM event. JEFF FORD/Special
VALDOSTA — Three years ago, some American Sign Language Interpreting majors at Valdosta State University saw the need for a Deaf ministry. Taking that passion, they founded the Deaf Ministry within the VSU Baptist Collegiate Ministries. The impact of that decision reverberates through VSU BCM to this day.
It’s not hard to see why. In recent years, the ASL major at VSU has continued to grow, and the desire for ASL interpretation has grown with it. Kaitlin Covington, a junior ASL major and current BCM president, has been actively involved with the Deaf Ministry for a year. However, her love for the deaf community began long before.
“I went on a mission trip the summer after my junior year of high school and met a couple of girls, one whose sister was deaf. That’s when I found out that the Deaf community was considered an unreached people group. I wanted to do something about that.”
One of the first things Covington did was major in ASL and join the BCM’s Deaf Ministry. “Even within the Bible Belt you have unreached people. Deaf people are used to having to battle to communicate. Anyone willing to give them the time of day can put a smile on their face.”
Mikayla Register understands this well. A junior Criminal Justice major, she co-leads this year’s Deaf Ministry team. She’s hard of hearing, and her hearing will continue to degenerate over time. For Register, Deaf culture is a relatively new experience, but the challenges she’s faced are not.
“I know isolation. I know what it’s like to not have access in my language” she says.
After meeting Covington and a couple other students, Register got involved with BCM. She knew she had found a place she was welcomed.
“Part of what originally held me back from BCM was the fear of not having it in my language. The Deaf Ministry has become a place where I can show up, am accepted, and get the message of the Gospel in a way I understand. I don’t have to question what I’m missing.”
Over the course of Register’s college career, she’s gone from participating in Deaf Ministry, to interpreting in it, to leading it. Her involvement and growth through the ministry is just one story of how God is working in VSU BCM’s deaf program.
Kyleigh Wynn, a junior ASL major from Eastman, also leads the VSU Deaf Ministry. She began by signing songs for the BCM’s weekly IMPACT meeting on Tuesday nights. While Wynn initially saw it as an opportunity to practice signing more often, she now views it as a personal outreach.
“It’s not just for the interpreting majors to practice; it’s also to reach the deaf on campus,” she emphasizes. “Learning the language helps you communicate with the deaf in BCM, as well as the deaf on campus. You can invite them to the BCM and have conversations with them on your own.”
For Covington, Register, and Wynn, the reality that so many of the deaf community are lost strikes a chord.
“Fewer than 5% of churches in Georgia reach out to the deaf community, and there’s still a barrier because not many people know the Gospel in ASL,” Wynn says. “It’s hard to communicate the Gospel to them if you can’t communicate with them to begin with.”
“Even though you might not realize it, there is a deaf community on every campus. Too often this community goes unnoticed, especially as an unreached people group, because they’re not across the world. They’re right here, right now,” says Covington.
Register vividly remembers the moment she realized that concept. “When I found out that the deaf were an unreached people group, I was in tears. I didn’t realize how little access they had in their language. It hurts my heart, that I have access but there are people all over the world who don’t.”
These three girls have been changed by their passion for deaf missions, but they’ve changed the lives of others as well. The deaf aren’t the only group being reached by the ministry. The future leaders BCM have also caught the vision for reaching the deaf on campus.
Jeff Ford, campus minister for the VSU BCM, says, “There’s now a desire for even non-interpreting students to connect with the deaf and hard of hearing when they come to our events.
“We have been beyond blessed by the freshman. They’ve asked how they could help and what they could do because they wanted it to continue. I had been afraid that the ministry would end after we graduated, but I’ve seen God answer our prayers by providing these freshmen,” Register acknowledges.
Many BCMers are signing up for the BCM’s ASL tutoring lessons and volunteering to lead worship songs at IMPACT.
“For the students who don’t have enough experience to sign a message, if you give them a couple days to ‘gloss’ (as the ASL majors say) a song, they’ll stand up there and sign it. Right now, there are more students who want to sign a song than there are songs in our Tuesday night program,” remarks Ford.
Covington recalls a lesson she learned and continues to learn when it comes to ASL, “It just takes effort; it doesn’t take knowledge. It’s about having the opportunity to reach people who want to feel loved and want to have the chance to hear the Gospel in their heart language.”
“It’s uncomfortable to reach out,” Register concedes, “but we’re not called to stay in our comfort zones. If that means reaching out to a deaf person, do it! Even if you don’t know how to sign. People’s lives and souls are at stake.”