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Sign art evangelist tries to be ‘a walking billboard’ for Christ

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Tyra Lokey stands before the crowd assembled for worship. As the music begins, worshipers join in, moving their lips to the words of the song. Lokey, a sign art evangelist, begins to worship too.

She spreads her arms wide, reaching up and out, fingers stretching toward heaven before they swoop around, twisting into another shape. Her eyes close, then open, and her brow furrows just before her face breaks wide open in an expression of intense joy.

Soon, the intensity of Lokey’s worship begins to be reflected on the faces of the crowd of worshipers. As they see the words to the song they are singing expressed through Lokey’s hands, arms, body and face, their faces begin to mirror hers. Even if the worshipers do not understand the signs themselves, there is no mistaking the message or the passion.

Lokey has introduced another group of worshipers to another level of worship through sign art.

For nearly a decade, the 30-year-old Louisville native has traveled around the world leading and teaching others to worship God through sign art, a combination of interpretive movement, mime, dance and drama built around sign language. Lokey is a frequent presenter at Kentucky Baptist Convention-sponsored events and shared her testimony at the KBC’s Women of Worth/Lifestyle Evangelism Conference Feb. 25 in Lexington. She will also lead sign art workshops at the KBC’s Creative Ministries Festival scheduled for March 7-8 at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville.

Using Hope Community Church in Lawrenceburg as a base, Lokey travels widely, speaking and teaching at as many as five churches or conferences per month. She has traveled full time since 2001. To date, she has trained more than 100 teams to share the gospel through sign art ministry, and in October 2002 was joined in her ministry by Derek Drury, a 21-year-old from Lawrenceburg. She has also produced a line of instructional videos.

But Lokey says teaching sign art is not the heart of the purpose of her ministry — teaching the love of Christ is.

“I don’t promote a sign art ministry,” Lokey said. “I promote a relationship with Jesus Christ. Many people don’t come to my classes to learn sign art, they come to experience Christ. I try to be a walking billboard that says ‘Christ.'”

Lokey was first introduced to sign language while a member of the Baptist Student Union at Murray State University. Under the direction of then-campus minister Keith Inman, Lokey and other BSU students helped build a church for deaf people in Puerto Rico.

During a worship time at the church, Lokey noticed a woman interpreting the service.

“I looked at her, and I thought about God,” Lokey said. “I thought ‘God, they would not be able to know your Word without her hands. God, that’s what I want.’”

Lokey began to pick up on sign language at what she calls a “miraculous” pace.

“It was definitely a touch from God,” she said.

The following summer break, Lokey said God opened a door for her to travel with a deaf drama and music ministry. She stumbled across the ministry while aimlessly flipping through a phone book during a moment of sheer boredom.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do, so I just prayed and said ‘God I don’t know what to do or where to go,'” she said.

Lokey spent the summer of 1992 as the only hearing person in the traveling group. The experience taught her to appreciate silence and value her hearing, but more importantly she was immersed in deaf language and culture. Performing with the group also taught her how to bring out the art in sign language.

“When I saw them doing music and dance, it wasn’t just the little woman in the corner of the television set,” Lokey said. The troupe’s performances fused sign language, creative movement and drama.

For Lokey, finding sign art ministry was the fulfillment of a call she sensed from God at the age of 12, when she professed her faith in Christ.

“It started the moment I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart,” she said. She grew up in a broken home and was neglected. On Sundays, Lokey watched her friends get on a bus and head off to church, returning later with candy. With nothing to do and no one really caring where she went, Lokey decided one day to get on the bus, too, so she could get some candy.

“I got something so much sweeter than candy: Jesus Christ,” she said. “It boggled my mind. I couldn’t imagine how someone could love me so much that they would die for me.”

Since that time, Lokey has made a daily practice of dying to herself so she can live more fully for Christ.

“I want people to be well aware that I am just Tyra. No lights, no confetti, just Tyra serving a great God. He does not need me, but I do want to be available.”

For more information on the upcoming Creative Ministries Festival, visit kybaptist.org. For more information about Tyra Lokey or sign art instructional videos, call Hope Community Church at (502) 859-2050.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http;//www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SIGNING FOR GOD.

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  • Brenda Smith