Dear Sign Language,
I think the best experiences are the ones that pick you. Sign Language wasn’t my first choice, in fact I was one of those people who said “I could never do that, kudos to those who could”. So it seems that in the end it didn’t matter what I said because Jehovah grabbed me and launched me into the ASL congregation.
When I was about 15, I learned about what a Sign Language congregation is like. It looked overwhelming to me, besides, I was teaching myself Portuguese. Still, I didn’t really have solid goals yet since I had only recently gotten baptized and I had no idea yet about all the possibilities. Well, 2010 rolled around and there was talk about a new Sign Language congregation coming to our kingdom hall. I was in the Spanish congregation at the time (which was also the congregation I grew up in) and was about to enter my last year of High School. My mom told me I should visit and I thought “eh, maybe someday” but I remember I wasn’t all that interested.
One day, one of my friends said that he wanted to check out the new ASL meeting after service “Yeah, sure why not”. Four of us show up and we sat down in the last row. I remember the silence being loud and I realized just how much noise you make by just sitting there when you’re either hungry or gassy. There was something about those hand gestures and facial expressions though. This brother was on stage, not a single word coming out of his mouth, and yet everyone else in there understood everything he was saying. By the end of the meeting I was mesmerized and inevitably hooked! I met a deaf sister who gave me advice on learning ASL and that night, I learned my full alphabet in ASL.
After I graduated high school, I fell head-first into the Sign Language rabbit hole. As soon as I turned 18, I moved to the congregation, and was approved to join the Foreign Language Class. It was a new beginning for me and I hadn’t the slightest idea of how much this decision would change me.
Something I’ve always loved about being in sign is that the brothers and sisters who join sign come from all sorts of backgrounds and areas which makes everyone in sign is so different from each other. There’s a lot of variety in culture, dress style and personalities. Growing up in Spanish, I never fully fit in, I knew how to, but at times I came off as a bit strange (my humor doesn’t always match). When I went to sign I didn’t feel a need to “fit in” except for adapting to the deaf culture (which is a lovely aspect of sign in itself, in fact, I love raw honesty from people and I appreciate that the deaf are deaf-initely honest). What stood out most to me though, since many in ASL are there to serve willingly and fully there were many who had been pioneering for years, served in other areas and have families who have been in the truth for generations. The way that most brothers and sisters expressed themselves about Jehovah was interesting to me; they talked about him like they really truly knew him. Like he was their best friend.
This whole combination of the diversity as well as the “need-greating” spirit that many of the brothers and sisters had, created a perfect environment for me personally to increase my spiritual growth.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew Jehovah was a great God. I got baptized because I was convinced this was the truth but also I didn’t want to upset Jehovah. Still, when I joined sign, it was honestly the first time I felt like I wasn’t “spiritual enough” to be around these super spiritual and zealous brothers and sisters. I realized that although I obeyed Jehovah, up until that point, I hadn’t truly seen him as my best friend yet… but I really wanted to. I began to Regular Pioneer in February 2013 and went to my first PIoneer school ever in ASL in January 2015.
After five years, in 2017 it was announced that the congregation would merge with another sign language congregation as part of the plan to fill up kingdom halls in order to save money. Although bittersweet, since many were moving to other congregations, we knew that only good things could come from this. May came around and we were at a new kingdom hall in a new location!
Well, remember how I said I was one of those people who say “I could never do that” and then does that? Well, I would soon experience this yet again. Before we merged with the other sign congregation, I learned about our brothers and sisters who are not only deaf, but also blind. Seeing how they need tactile sign language to get their spiritual meals… I was in awe but also said that classic statement of mine because I never felt adequate enough. At our new congregation, we met a sister named Geok. Geok is deaf-blind and eventually she proved me wrong. She’s a literal representation of how much Jehovah loves his brothers and sisters no matter how limited they are. This sister is an inspiration! She comments every meeting and has many scriptures memorized. It was an honor to be able to help, even if just for a little bit, until she eventually went to another congregation closer to her family. As far as I know Jehovah has taken great care of her.
Now I still believe that my “I could never do that” statements are true, in fact, everything I have accomplished wasn’t because of my own efforts, but because of Jehovah. True, I did what I could, but with every new change, I worked until I couldn’t and told Jehovah “I can’t do this”. After this, it felt like Jehovah grabbed me by the hand as though he were saying “oh yes you can, I’ll help you”.
Had it not been for sign, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do Seldom Work in Florida for a month in 2017.
Might not have had that amazing Ecuador adventure in 2018..
…and I don’t know if my 2019 Europe trip would have been as amazing as it was!
Going to ASL exposed me to a new friends, a new culture, a new world, and so many possibilities. This has all been a result from that decision and although intimidating at first, Jehovah’s blessings have been more than I could have ever imagined. These experiences are gifts. They made it all worthwhile.
It also forces you to look within yourself to make the needed changes to be able to help more. It isn’t easy at all but it’s worth every effort. In fact, when I was picked to join the Foreign Language Class for ASL, I got a phone call from a brother who told me “you need to have your personal study on check and go all the way in. Double meetings may just wear you out and if you think you need to do double meetings, I don’t think joining a foreign language is for you because you have to be all in. Being in will force you to learn it quicker”. In all honesty, my personal study wasn’t at its best at that point, but that advice motivated me to make it stronger. I was studying for three hours just so I could prepare for one meeting. Once I was in, I was all in and it was honestly what worked for me best. I’m not saying that other ways to join don’t work, different methods work for different people, but personally, I respond best when I’m met with a challenge that will support my goals which is why I think that advice came from Jehovah.
I could go on and about all the great times I’ve had in sign and all of those great moments will forever be etched onto my heart. I joined hoping to help, but sign ended up helping me more. (funny how that always happens) Truly, I have gained some of the most amazing friendships thanks to sign language, and have been exposed to a culture although silent, it’s full of life, animation, expression and feeling. Still, the most valuable friendship I was able to strengthen was Jehovah’s friendship. Now I too can feel confident and talk about him like he’s my best friend because he really is my best friend!
For the time being, I will not be in Sign Language. I will go back to the Spanish Congregation to help with a very important matter, but I am optimistic that everything will be okay and I will return to sign once things get better. I am also confident that this decision is in harmony with my whole “release ropes” intention and I see it as a working towards my goals and kickstart the next chapter in life. This isn’t goodbye, for now it is more of “see you next time!” and thank you, from the bottom of my heart!