An Auslan sign language–interpreted session of Road to Bethlehem made it possible for Deaf individuals to fully experience for the first time the walk-through dramatization of the story of Jesus’ birth. Held at Mountain View Adventist College (MVAC) in Sydney, Australia, on November 26, the inclusive initiative using the Australian sign-language system was a partnership between Christian Services for the Blind & Hearing Impaired (CSBHI) and MVAC.
The 7:00 p.m. session, especially tailored for the Deaf community, included seven adults and five children, ranging from young families to retirees. Among them was a deaf-blind woman who engaged with the event through her senses of touch and smell, particularly enjoying the free petting zoo. “She expressed how the experience brought to life the stories she had read in her braille Bible,” CSFBHI coordinator Coralie Schofield said.
The idea for the initiative came from intern pastor Jessica Stekla of the Greater Sydney Conference of the Adventist Church, who connected with the Deaf community through her pastoral work. “It was a perfect way to bridge the gap between the church and the Deaf community, especially during a universally celebrated event like Christmas,” she said.
Run alongside a regular group, the Auslan-interpreted session was also an opportunity to raise awareness. “It was likely the first exposure for many people to meeting a Deaf person,” Stekla said.
According to her, the regular group became more aware of the adjustments made for the Deaf group as the session progressed. “I noticed the group becoming more mindful of them each time to accommodate for a standing area to the side, making sure they could all see the interpreter while moving around each location.”
“Hopefully, seeing this in action can inspire people from the Adventist community to learn more about the opportunities we have in reaching an otherwise unreached population and even looking into learning some Auslan for themselves,” Stekla added.
The Christmas program with an Auslan-language option is just one of several initiatives of the Adventist Church in Australia to get people with disabilities involved. Earlier in 2023, Adventist Media’s production department and CSFBHI joined together to create the first-ever Auslan-interpreted video series for CSFBHI.
Also, two new Pathfinder honors seek to raise disability awareness in Australia, according to a recent report. The honors are intended to equip Pathfinders to better recognize and communicate with people who have disabilities.
All these initiatives are part of the work of Adventist Possibility Ministries (APM) based at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Maryland, United States, which seeks to empower people with disabilities by focusing on their potential, leaders said.