Lottie Riekehof set out to compile
a sign-language dictionary and wound up with the best-selling book in
Gospel Publishing House history. She retired in 1990, but her book The
Joy of Signing remains a mainstay of deaf education. It also led
to a nine-hour video version and two puzzle books. Riekehof, who lives
in Arlington, Va., recently discussed her career with Ken Walker.
Evangel: How did you get involved
in sign language?
At 25, I was working at Calvary Gospel Church in Washington, D.C., as
a missionary and musician and overseeing a home for Christian working
women. I met a woman in the home who was deaf. When she went to services,
she looked closely at the pastor because she couldnt hear.
She taught me a few signs a week.
Later I took classes at Gallaudet University [the worlds only
liberal arts university for the deaf]. After two years I was invited
to Central Bible College. I had no degree but started teaching signs.
I took courses while interpreting for deaf students and got my bachelors
I was dean of women at CBC from
1951 on and continued to teach sign language. Then I went to New York
University [1968-70] to work on my doctorate, where I had previously
gotten my masters.
When I taught at CBC, it was the
first time sign language was offered for credit. When I started at Gallaudet
[in 1970], it had never been offered for credit. I was kind of a pioneer,
but credit goes to both schools for being willing to offer it on a credit
Evangel: What was the value of
a sign language course?
Riekehof: At CBC my students
went out as missionaries, full-time ministers and interpreters for deaf
people in hearing churches. At Gallaudet, graduate students who were
preparing to go into deaf education took it.
Evangel: How did The Joy of
Signing come about?
Riekehof: I found an American
Indian book of sign-language drawings for intertribal communication
and thought, This is the kind of thing we need for the deaf.
In 1961, American Sign Language
was privately published by Wayne Shaneyfelt, a former student who became
a missionary to the deaf in the Philippines. He sold a thousand or so.
In 1963, it became Talk to the Deaf. We added illustrations and
it was picked up by Gospel Publishing House.
In 1978 I did an updated edition.
I said, call it Talk to the Deaf, Part 2.
They said, "No, give us a new
One Sunday morning the Holy Spirit
dropped it in my heart The Joy of Signing. Many deaf people
have told me how happy they are about the title.
When I completed the book, I showed
it to my pastor [Claude Qualls at Arlington Assembly of God] and he
said, "Lets dedicate it to God."
All the deaf people gathered around
and laid hands on it and prayed God would use it around the world. Thats
exactly what happened.
Evangel: How has it been used?
Riekehof: Although hearing
people use it to learn signs, deaf children learn from this book. They
see a sign being used, but they dont know the word. So they look
through the book to find the sign drawing and then learn the vocabulary.
Many parents have found the book useful in learning to communicate with
their deaf children.
I saw a television program where
they were teaching chimpanzees and they pulled out The Joy of Signing.
Evangel: How has working with
the deaf enriched your life?
Riekehof: My greatest blessing
is to see my students going into ministry with the deaf and to know
that many deaf people have received the gospel.
Evangel: How can churches minister
to the deaf more effectively?
Riekehof: There is a strong
move to provide services and interpreters to the deaf. Some churches
have separate services for them. Deaf people have various skills and
likes and dislikes. Some enjoy being with hearing people and others
only want to be with deaf people.
Its a challenge because hearing
people feel awkward with the deaf since they dont know sign language.
Its wise to start a sign-language class in the church so hearing
people can mingle more easily with deaf people.
Evangel: Share your vision for
Riekehof: I want to see
deaf Christians grow in the Lord and be active in church as well as
winning other deaf people to the Lord. Deaf people understand each other
because theyre in the same language and culture group.