Signs speak volumes

By Amber Tiller

Members of Deaf Church communicate through sign language

praise — Though they cannot hear, the congregation finds its own unique way to glorify God through a deaf service. Amber Tiller

Praise — Though they cannot hear, the congregation finds its own unique way to glorify God through a deaf service. Photo credit: Amber Tiller

As the service begins and the pastor prays, members of the Deaf Church, housed at Living Word Baptist Church, do not bow their heads or close their eyes. The congregation does not stick to tradition, instead looking intently at the preacher and experiencing the service — a deaf service — in a unique way.

People talk, but mostly without sounds. Their hands move quickly while their facial expressions welcome friends and fellow church members. Not one spoken word is used during these conversations.

Throughout the service, everything is signed and then voiced by an interpreter.

In the case of John Wyble, pastor of the Deaf Church who is also deaf, he persists in bringing the Bible to the deaf culture using American Sign Language (ASL).

“That’s the vision we have today, to be able to see deaf people know Jesus Christ before our time runs out,” Wyble said.

The Deaf Church reaches out to anyone willing to come. Hearing and deaf people alike join for service at 10 a.m. in a separate room near the main sanctuary.

Some Liberty students studying ASL come to experience the preaching, but also to practice ASL.

“You learn the language better because in a hearing service, someone is voicing and then the interpreter signs it,” Jennifer Yates, a nursing major with an ASL minor, said. “And when you hear two languages at once, you automatically rely on the one that you know. You don’t ever learn the second. But in the service at Living Word, (the pastor is) signing it and then someone’s voicing it, and I have a chance to interpret it in my head first, see how much I know, how much I understand. And if I miss something, then it’s voiced for me.”

After prayer, the floor is open for testimony. The women and men who come to the small stage emphasize their stories through strong facial expressions and rapid movements using their arms and hands.

Following the testimonies and prayer, worship music begins playing.

During worship, the music blares loudly out of the speakers for the hard-of-hearing, but the whole song is signed.

“I love to worship in sign language,” Yates said. “It’s the most incredible thing. You can get really into it and show a lot of emotion.”

Once the energy subsides, the congregation sits and Wyble preaches without using a single verbal word.

A white trifold poster stands on the stage as Wyble wrote out the letters “Joseph” and then proceeds to place the reference underneath “Genesis 39.”

After signing, the pastor allows time for the congregation to read the scripture for themselves, and then he begins signing the sermon again.

The congregation does not hurry out the door once the service has ended. They stand and begin greeting and fellowshipping with everyone.

The Deaf Church holds a unique service, one that may be unfamiliar for many of the hearing.

“It was a whole new experience,” Yates said about the first service she attended. “It was kind of strange, but since then, I’ve made some good friends. These are incredible people.”

William Atwell, a deaf Liberty professor who occasionally fills in for Wyble at the Deaf Church, explained that deaf people should not be treated any differently than anyone else.

“(Frederick Schreiber has) a motto or a saying, ‘Deaf people can do anything except hear,’” Atwell said.

Atwell and Wyble hold to that truth, explaining the Bible to anyone and everyone they can.

Living Word Baptist Church is located at 4130 Waterlick Road, Forest, Virginia. For more information, visit

TILLER is a feature reporter.

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