2023–2025 LWML Mission Grant #14 Enhancement of Deaf Ministry and Outreach — $47,000

classroom setting with adults learning

Church Interpreters — Growing in Interest, Growing in Participation, Growing in Christ

By Rev. Thomas Dunseth and Kaye Wolff

Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society for the Deaf (ELMS) operates the Church Interpreter Training Academy (CITA). Their goal is to train interpreters for Lutheran congregations so that, through Sunday morning Divine Service interpreted into American Sign Language (ASL), Deaf people might have access to the life-giving, life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are many interpreters in cities across the United States who serve Lutheran congregations, but few of these interpreters have the skills to sign the Word of God accurately. CITA helps to provide the training. 

We thank LWML for their generous grant which has enabled CITA to hold two workshops, one at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the other at St. Paul and Jesus Deaf Lutheran Churches in Austin, Texas. Three more workshops are scheduled for 2024 — one in Michigan, another in Indiana, and a third at a site yet to be determined. There has been a great interest among Lutheran congregations desiring to be involved in Deaf mission. The key to any congregational Deaf ministry is trained interpreters. 

Many Lutherans want to learn American Sign Language. They want to share the love of Christ with the Deaf community, of which approximately 96 percent is unchurched. It is a win-win mission outreach.

The participants of CITA workshops grow in their understanding of Lutheran theology and worship as they learn to interpret the Word of God in ASL, the language of the Deaf. Then, as they go about their vocations in their communities, they invite Deaf people to church who can see the Word of God being brought to them in their own language. 

An essential tool for the training of church interpreters is the translation of the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) into American Sign Language. Currently, LSB is being translated into a video resource by a translation team of pastors for the Deaf, a Deaf deaconess, and Deaf Lutheran teachers. When completed, this video will be available for use by the LCMS at large. Divine Service, Setting Three has been completed and was used for the first time at the February CITA in Austin, Texas. Thirty-nine interpreters, signers, and youth attended this workshop. 

Rev. Thomas Dunseth (pictured right) has been a pastor for the Deaf as an LCMS missionary in Hong Kong and Macau, China, and a missionary to the Deaf in the Michigan District since 2001. He is the vice president and co-founder of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission for the Deaf, a member of the LSB ASL translation team, and a regular interpreter at LWML events. 

Kaye Wolff (not pictured) is a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan which houses Ephphatha’s St. Martin Lutheran School for the Deaf. Kaye has been instrumental in the support and promotion of the school, Deaf Lutheran mission in the Michigan District, and the growth of interest in the LWML among our Deaf LCMS sisters. 

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This story was originally featured in the Summer 2024 Lutheran Woman's Quarterly. Order your subscription here.

For more information about this mission grant, view the individual mission grant page here.

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