When Michele Kassa’s best friend learned that her son was deaf, Michele got an idea. She decided she would learn American Sign Language to be able to communicate with him.
Little did she know she had just opened the door to her purpose and calling.
In classes at a nearby community college, she shot ahead of the other students and reached a level of proficiency in almost no time. Why did she connect so well with ASL? Her mother reminded her that when she was a little girl, she pleaded for a book she saw at the bookstore that was a highly unusual pick for a girl of seven years old. “It was three-inch thick ASL dictionary,” says Michele. “Apparently, I was so enamored with it that my mom bought it for me. Over the next couple of years, I devoured it and made my own vocab lists and diagrams. Sixteen years had passed and I had completely forgotten about it. But when I began classes and it was really taking a hold of me, I think it is clear that God had planted that seed when I was a kid for what was going to happen.”
Michele went on to become the leader of Rock Church’s Deaf Ministry, where she leads a team of 10 interpreters to bring the gospel message to the more than 100 Deaf people, spanning across all campuses. The challenge is to be able to communicate in a way that is consistent with Pastor Miles’ style. “It keeps you on your toes,” she says. “How Pastor Miles’ communicates is a large part of his appeal and why so many come to Rock Church. Keeping up with Miles and interpreting all of his energy and mannerisms is exhausting—but boy is it fun.”
And while getting people to receive the message by signing was the initial task, it hasn’t remained the only one. Michele and team have seen the need to bring music to the Deaf in a new way.
“During the last two Night’s of Worship here at the Rock,” Michele offers, “we have stood onstage with the musicians and signed from there. We appeared on camera and the response has been remarkable. Our Deaf friends say that for the first time, they feel a part of the service in a way they never have before. Most Deaf tell of their experience as being relegated to the far corners of their churches so that they are out of the way. But for the first time, they’ve felt included and one with the entire church. They could not have been happier.”
But there was more.
“Even the hearing people loved it and said that we offered a new dimension to the worship with a lot of symbols they could recognize and all the emoting that goes on to convey a feeling during a song. It was really a giant leap toward a much needed integration between hearing people and our Deaf brothers and sisters.”
Of course, when the Deaf aren’t in a church service, where do they go to worship to music during the week? Michele and team have thought of that too.
“We have put 32 videos of worship songs in ASL with signing on YouTube and we put up a new one every few weeks. We’re going to have quite a library of songs that the Deaf can worship to. They really deserve to have a Christian walk every bit as vibrant and dynamic as the hearing.”
Of course, one might think, if they can’t hear it, how is watching someone sign to music any different than simply watching someone sign? “You’ll have to watch a video (https://www.youtube.com/user/ConnectRockDeaf),” chuckles Michele. “We display the rhythm of the song with our bodies and emote with the highs and lows and crescendos of the song, and it’s really an entirely different experience. The Deaf even have their favorite songs!”
Join the Deaf Ministry for men's and women's Bible studies and outreach events. Find out more at http://rockdeaf.org.
Look for the ASL version of the new Rock LIVE Worship album coming soon.