Nairobi, Kenya (RNS) — Young men and women danced in semicircles to the beat of drums on the grounds of St Andrew’s Church on a recent afternoon. The group leader enthusiastically gestured as she marched and showed sign language to the dancers. As the dancers rehearsed her hymn, “Oh, He Loves Me,” it was all silent save for a few muted sounds.
The group belongs to St. Andrew’s Deaf Choir, known as the Zion Worship Team.Choir He has mastered hymns and devotional songs in American Sign Language, inspiring congregations at Presbyterian and other Christian church services around this East African country.
“This group knows its strength is in music,” said Judy Kihumba, 32, the church’s deaf ministry coordinator. “When they practice on this ground, they find space to move more freely.”
Deaf singers are also mentally liberated. “When they sing, it’s a soul-enlightening activity, a therapy for them, a way of worship. They feel closer to God through this,” Kihumba said.
Named to the BBC’s list of the 100 most inspiring and influential women in the world last year, Kihumba is the founder of Talking Hands and an ear for postpartum depression. health.
Joining a choir is also a means of religious education for its members. Kihumba explained that being deaf “means not communicating or understanding the Bible at an early age because the family does not know sign language.”
Also, just having the stage all to yourself is liberating. “Deaf people love to sing because it’s the only way they won’t be disturbed. It also comes from the deepest part of their heart,” she added.
According to choir members, “Amazing Grace” is among the group’s most popular songs.
IT technician Priscah Odongo, who has been choir leader for the past five years, says her job includes making sure the chords being played are in sync with the singers’ sign language. said. Odongo joined the choir in 2015 and worshiped through her songs.
“I wanted to prove to the world that deaf people are talented and can do the same,” said 36-year-old Odongo. To. “
The success of the deaf choir exposes the widely held misconception that disabled people are a burden on society.
“The Zion Choir ministry debunks the myth that people with disabilities are there to receive without giving back to their communities,” said a longtime hearing member of the choir and professionally working with people with disabilities. Sudan Nderitu said.
She explains that the choir members have different talents and skills. They are electricians, carpenters, IT professionals, dressmakers, tailors, and more. “We wear uniforms that are made by one of us. ‘I tell them to say who they are, what they can do, what skills they have.'”
The choir was started in 1992 by Kum Hee Moon, a Korean missionary who founded the Yonnak Deaf Church in Nairobi. Five years later, that congregation moved to St Andrews, and the choir was integrated into St Andrews’ Ministry of Music, where it participated in parish events such as Music Week.
Lucy Kahaki has been singing with choirs since she was well into her 40s. Kahaki, now 71, finds peace singing with people half her age. She said her age doesn’t matter because her energy when she sings matches that of the younger members.
“Singing is my passion. I sing to praise God. I joined the choir so other young deaf people could gain the courage to sing for the Lord.” She told the Religion News Service.
Choir member and special pastor for the deaf at the Nairobi Presbyterian Church of the East African Presbyterian Church, Pastor George Obonyo, said the choir’s example is helping Kenyan churches embrace deaf culture. He said it helped him persuade him.
“I am grateful to the churches of Kenya … for their inclusion,” he said. “I know this will help me more in the future with regards to inclusion.”