Signers lend a hand at church

Students find reward in interpreting for the deaf.
Tuesday, January 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:08 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Scott Courtney sits on a chair in the front of the sanctuary at Grace Bible Church dressed in a gray shirt with the embroidery of Ephesians 3:20. Over his left shoulder, in the background, hangs a sign that reads, “Holding forth the Word of Life.”

At Grace Bible Church, holding forth the Word may mean not even uttering a single word.

Courtney, a recent graduate from William Woods University’s sign language program, interprets for the deaf during the 11 a.m. Sunday service.

“It’s a great place for a novice interpreter to stretch out their wings and grow,” he said. “It’s an open and safe environment to work in with people that know I am a novice interpreter and that I’m going to make mistakes.”

Courtney, who has attended Grace Bible Church for nearly two years, began volunteering his services almost every Sunday for the past four months.

“My payment is not money. It is the support and feedback that I get from the deaf because their feedback is so valuable to my development as an interpreter,” he said. “That alone is my payment, and that totally is more than enough.”

Bethany Campbell began volunteering to sign at Grace Bible Church in April. She is a William Woods senior who is one of approximately 90 students studying for a bachelor’s of science degree in American Sign Language interpreting.

“I’ve seen my skills improve immensely doing it over and over again,” Campbell said. “That’s going to help me with my certification test.”

In order to work as a sign language interpreter in Missouri, candidates must take the Missouri Interpreters Certification System exam. The exam has a written and a performance component. After taking the test, individuals will be placed at one of five levels. They are from lowest to highest — Novice Certification, Apprentice Certification, Restricted Certification in Education, Intermediate Certification, Advanced Certification and Comprehensive Certification.

Agencies will only hire those who test at the Intermediate Certification level.

Campbell and Courtney will take the exam in the next few months.

Grace Bible Church member Kathleen Alexander, owner of Columbia Interpreting Services, is a mentor for the two young signers. Alexander has 10 years experience as a signer and her business is one of the two interpreting services companies in Columbia. During mentoring sessions, they watch sign language videotapes and talk about how certain people signed.

“I kind of help show them the ropes and answer any questions that they have,” Alexander said. “I’m like their guide.”

Courtney and Campbell agree that Alexander’s guidance has been of great assistance.

“She definitely spoke volumes to me,” Courtney said.

“I just let them know what is expected of them in the interpreting field,” Alexander said. “They both have a long way to go, but they are working on it. I think they have the potential to be very good interpreters.”

Campbell and Courtney acknowledge another reason they give their services to the church, other than to gain experience and prepare for the certification exam.

“On a spiritual level it is awesome to see how the Lord works in a world where there is no sound,” Courtney said.

Similarly, Campbell said, “It has been a blessing to be able to be involved at the church and to use an ability that I have to serve in the church.”

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