Piercing the Silence
In a few minutes, Big Bird's Barnyard Blowout would be underway.
Parents would drop off their young children, and for a Saturday
afternoon we'd frolic in preschool oblivion -- playing games,
coloring, and learning about Jesus. I'm a children's pastor; I live
for this stuff. It's heaven on earth.
As we organized our first game, order suddenly fell into chaos. A
commotion erupted in the corner. I heard screaming. What could
possibly be wrong? Who dared to interrupt my perfect plans? I
searched for the culprit.
I discovered the instigator of the disruption: a 3-year-old girl.
She screamed with delight, crawled in places she ought not be,
ignored everyone's orders, and rebelled beyond belief. I wondered
why no one had put a stop to her antics.
Then I saw her fully -- wispy blonde hair, big blue inquisitive
eyes, and a smile that could melt polar ice caps. There was just
one big challenge: Deaf from birth, she couldn't know my plans; and
oblivious to it all, she had plans of her own. I was
Then it hit me -- sign language. I knew only one sign: "I love
you." I looked at the girl, made the sign, and it worked! She came
to me, and instantly I had a new friend.
Ashley was a bright, loving child. The only difference between her
and the other 60 children was that she was deaf. But it seemed an
insurmountable obstacle all the same. It broke my heart when I
realized she couldn't hear the story of Jesus; even though she
attended church, she didn't know about him.
Eventually, Ashley enrolled in the Kentucky School for the Deaf.
So the little girl who had no spoken language suddenly had a way to
communicate: American Sign Language (ASL). She was gone for months
at a time. During the times she was home, though, Ashley became
part of our family. She spent the night with my daughter, went to
lunch with our family, came home after church on Sunday, or just
stopped by to spend an hour or two. We visited her when we could,
attending award ceremonies or taking her out for a hamburger and
One day her mother told me she thought Ashley was ready to learn
about Jesus. We made plans and more than 100 kids were in
attendance when the big moment arrived. This time, everything had
been prepared just for Ashley. The teacher shared the story of
Jesus in ASL and invited everyone to join God's family. Ashley, now
fully understanding, immediately gave her life to our wonderful
Now, 14 years later, Ashley's a beautiful young woman who's still
in church, still melting ice caps with that smile, and still loving
Jesus. In the fall of 2004, she underwent the surgical process for
a cochlear implant, which allowed her to hear for the very first
time. Now "I love you" isn't only a sign-it's a wonderful sound,
Ashley touched my life and I'll never be the same. She taught me
that the focus in ministry is people, not plans. And it's not
always about changing people's lives; sometimes it's about people's
lives changing you.
Steve Harney is a children's pastor and a Children's Ministry
Magazine Live presenter based in Somerset, Kentucky.