Celia King championed having sign language interpreters at The Salvation Army’s Just Action conference for the first time.
‘Hi, my name is Celia and I am deaf.’ Most people are shocked when they learn I’m deaf because I speak so well and bluff my way through most situations.
My father led me to Jesus when I was six after my parents became Christians at a Billy Graham crusade. This was a real experience for me—I knew Jesus had become my Saviour! I’m grateful for the grounding in my faith I received in the Open Brethren church while growing up. Through this I came to love apologetics, which is about defending my Christian beliefs and knowing how to back them with what the Bible says.
I’ve always been interested in overseas mission. I read books about missionaries when I was a child and thought, ‘I’d love to go overseas and do that sort of work.’ When I was 15 my parents said, ‘We’re thinking of going to Nepal as missionaries, what do you think?’ I said yes straightaway, because that’s what God had already put in my heart.
I attended boarding school in India, where I was in the minority because almost everyone was dark skinned and of another culture. It was a really good experience for me to be in the minority, to have my beliefs and values challenged.
I was diagnosed as deaf when I was 12 and was told what little hearing I still had could disappear at any moment. Later I met a lovely Christian man, and even knowing I might one day be completely deaf, he wanted to marry me. We’ve been married 43 years.
Around 1994, my hearing eventually completely disappeared overnight. I went to hospital where they gave me drugs to try and restore some of my hearing loss. People prayed for me and I regained a little hearing, but am still profoundly deaf, needing to rely on hearing aids and interpreters. I also learnt sign language at that time and moved into the Deaf community where I felt at home.
Not long after, I saw an advert for a chaplain for the Deaf and at first I wasn’t interested, but God kept prompting me. I accepted the job and spent three-and-a-half years in that role. I loved it and it gave me a passion for working with Deaf people. I visited them in prisons, hospitals and mental health facilities when there were very few interpreters. I often found myself taking on an interpreting role between staff and clients.
God was preparing me for my current role as chairperson of Deaf Interpreting NZ, which is trying to establish a training pathway for Deaf people to become interpreters and work in similar situations as hearing interpreters.
Throughout my faith journey I’ve become more open to listening to others’ perspectives and hearing their beliefs and values, sifting it through what I believe, sometimes finding a compromise and sometimes finding we’re not so different after all.
I am using my voice and my hands to speak up for the rights and inclusion of Deaf people in a hearing-centric world. I am the only Deaf person at my corps (Salvation Army church) in Glen Eden, and it feels like God has me in a waiting room regarding ministry. He’s saying, ‘Not yet, but it will happen’—which is hard for me as a person of action.
Having New Zealand Sign Language interpreters at the Army’s Just Action conference has begun to open things up. I think there’s greater awareness of Deaf issues, and people were challenged about how we can build equity within our churches. How can our corps do things differently so the Deaf aren’t excluded or pushed to the sidelines of their faith community?
I’m passionate about supporting and advocating for Deaf people because I see how
by Celia King (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 21 October 2017, p11
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.