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Drama forges friendships between hearing, deaf kids

VENTURA, Calif. (BP)–Until “The Sign of Hope,” 16-year-old Nicole DeLillo never tried to make friends with deaf kids.
Not knowing sign language, she wasn’t sure how to approach youth who spoke with their hands. Then DeLillo joined the cast of a play at Grace Baptist Church in Ventura, Calif. The play revolves around a deaf character named Hope.
The cast of “The Sign of Hope” — more than 30 youth — included a group of deaf kids who taught their fellow actors to communicate. The youth became interested in drama after 25 attended the California Southern Baptist Convention’s 1996 state youth conference.
“One of the things that impressed them most was the Creative Images group that performed drama and skits,” explained Eydie Miskel, director of deaf ministries at Grace Baptist. “Our youth came back from that convention on fire for the Lord … and expressing their desire to get involved in drama,” Miskel said.
“Only a year ago, we only had a handful of youth involved here at the church. They have brought so much enthusiasm and excitement to the ministries at Grace,” Miskel added.
In addition to learning sign language symbols for such words as “Jesus” and “pray,” the hearing kids have been shown they can motion throwing a football if they want to play catch.
“I learned I could talk to deaf kids without knowing every sign,” DeLillo said.
In the nearly two-hour play — featuring original music by Jory Rolf and Lou Mehle, members of Grace Baptist — two boys stumble upon a huge Bible hidden in the basement of a school. A candy-eating angel named Shugar pops out and informs the boys it is their mission to teach Hope the meaning of Easter.
The play’s dialogue was written by Miskel, Rolf, Tess Bloyer and Janna Gillaspy. It was their goal to pass on a religious lesson and also form a bond between the hearing and deaf kids in the cast. That’s why sign language is used in the play.
“The deaf kids are at an advantage because they know the language and can share it with the others,” Rolf said.
When rehearsals began in February, about 10 youth showed up. But word spread and the cast grew to nearly three dozen.
Grace Baptist started its deaf ministry more than a year ago and about 50 hearing-impaired people now are members of the congregation.
“Some of the deaf people have said this was the first time they felt they were part of a church family,” Miskel said.
Nearly 700 attended three performances of “The Sign of Hope” and several made professions of faith as a result of the play.
Lorena Martinez, 14, who played the title character, is partially deaf and communicates in sign language. She knows some kids are scared to talk to her.
“They don’t know how to react,” Martinez, of Oxnard, Calif., she said through an interpreter. They don’t know communication “just takes simple signs and finger spelling.”
On Easter Sunday, Martinez received a special blessing, Miskel reported. “You see, at the end of ‘The Sign of Hope’ after Hope accepts Christ as her Savior, her parents come forward to hug her because of the decision she has made,” Miskel explained.
“Easter Sunday (Lorena’s) mother came forward and accepted Christ as her Savior!”
Miskel said Martinez’ two best friends also made professions of faith, and another youth who worked backstage during the production made a profession of faith.
Not only can some of the hearing cast members now sign “our God is an awesome God,” but they’ve also learned kids are kids, with or without hearing.
“It’s kind of like bonding,” Martinez said.

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  • Tom Kisken