Football players extend revival message to include hearing impaired

April 23, 2004|GARY MOYERS

Jeff Harris grew up in Danville with a special awareness of the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people.

Now the pastor of Vine Grove Baptist Church near Elizabethtown wants to share that awareness with the hearing and deaf in his congregation.

The former Danville High School football player and member of two state championship squads will kick off his church's revival by holding a service at 11 a.m. May 16 in American Sign Language only.

"There will be no spoken language at that service," said Harris, son of Archie and Barbara Harris of Danville. "We will have a voice interpreter for those who speak and don't know sign language. One of the reasons we're doing this is to give the hearing members of our church just a taste of what it's like to have to depend on a third party interpreter. They'll get it for an hour or so, not all the time like deaf people deal with."


He has invited as guest evangelist Randy Dignon, pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., who just happened to play football with Harris at Danville.

"Randy will speak in ASL, and I will interpret for him," said Harris. "I'll do the remaining parts of the service in ASL, and Randy will interpret for me. That way hearing people will get a good idea of what it's like.

"Our main goal is to give the hearing community a taste of what it's like to be deaf, but also to give the gospel to the deaf," he said. "We're praying that God will use the message to touch people in different ways."

Preaching in ASL is not new to Harris, whose parents, brother and sister are all deaf.

"Whenever my family comes, I preach both in English and sign at the same time," he said. "That can be taxing, equivalent to speaking sentences in two languages. I've never done it on this scale, though. Randy's uncle is a missionary to Ecuador supported by our church, and he has preached to us. He is deaf, and our congregation is accustomed to me signing his address."

Choice of Dignon as evangelist was natural one

The choice of Dignon as evangelist was a natural one for Harris, since the two were childhood friends as well as high school teammates.

"God used his family to witness to me when I was 12, and that led to me getting saved at Calvary Baptist in Danville," said Harris. "We've kept in touch since high school. Randy's father and my father were college football teammates at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., both have taught at KSD together, and we've known each other for years. Randy was a senior and I was a freshman on the 1992 state title team, and I was on the 1994 state title team."

Harris said he has been preaching since the age of 16 and has been in the ministry full time since he was 21, five years ago.

"This is my first church; we started this church from scratch," he said. "There was no split from another church, which is so common. We just came here and started the church on Sept. 16, 2001."

Harris met his wife, Elizabeth, at Clays Mill Baptist Church in Lexington.

"Her father is associate pastor there" he said. They have two daughters, Christina, 3, and Cynthia, 10 weeks.

Harris said he's finding out a service like this will draw a crowd.

"We're getting a tremendous response from the deaf community from all over the state, " he said. "Groups have called me saying they're planning to come from Bowling Green, Louisville, Lexington, and we expect a big group from Danville."

Because his church is small, Harris said, they've come up with an old-fashioned way handle the expected crowd.

"We have prayed and prayed about how to handle this, and we're going to set up a big tent on our property," he said. "It's kind of fitting that we do that, since this service is the beginning of our old-fashioned tent revival."

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