Preacher uses sign language to teach Biblical concepts at Mt. Pleasant library
Communicating with his hands is second nature to Christian Garcia.
So is preaching.
Put them together, and a unique skill set emerges: helping the hearing impaired understand Biblical concepts they may have never learned before.
“I just want to teach people about God’s love for them,” said Garcia, assistant pastor at Mount Zion Community Church just over the Westmoreland County border in Bullskin Township, Fayette County. “Sign language is cool but … it was an opportunity to give God’s love a platform.”
Garcia’s warmth and good nature comes through in his quick hand movements, regardless of the subject. He is in the middle of a popular instructional series on American sign language at Mt. Pleasant Public Library, teaching others the basics of how to communicate about anything, not just religion.
Library director Mary Kaufman praised Garcia’s ability to connect with his pupils in an engaging way.
“He’s just a dynamic personality,” she said. “I’m really glad to know him.”
She does because life led him here.
Garcia, 23, is originally from Michigan but found a good fit at Mount Zion after an internship there while he was in college in North Carolina. He graduated in May and married his wife, Rachel, a few months later. Sign language has been a mainstay in his life since he learned about the need while volunteering at a Tennessee ranch during high school and college.
“I was just so fascinated at how they could communicate … with just their hands,” he said.
People at the ranch, who were hearing impaired, taught him signs relevant to the setting — basketball, volleyball and other games. He eventually became a counselor there and continued learning new signs.
Garcia described his signs as “very sloppy” but understandable. He was able to converse and pick up new skills during a summer at a church in Peru as a college junior.
“My goal was just to communicate with them,” he said. “I want to open people’s eyes.”
He is not a licensed interpreter, but rather uses his skills to help others.
Another part of his learning came while watching his future mother-in-law interpret a North Carolina church service with sign language. He realized the possibilities in helping the hearing impaired comprehend Biblical concepts, such as grace or faith, in a basic way.
“You have to say them bare bones exactly how they are,” Garcia said. “There’s an ethical boundary you have to draw.”
There currently aren’t any sign language needs at Mount Zion, but the library sessions help Garcia keep his skills fresh.
Pastor Paul Haasz said Garcia is working with youth and music ministry.
“He very naturally makes friendships with people,” Haasz said.
Garcia also has a knack for making sign language lessons fun. Pupils ranging in age from pre-teens to the elderly left his library class excited, Kaufman said.
“He is wonderful to work with,” she said. “He is very kind. He is very generous. He’s clearly brilliant.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .