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Fairfield conference offers American Sign Language program


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LeConte Hall signs during a convention for the hearing impaired at the Jehovah Witnesses Assembly Hall in Fairfield, Friday. The convention drew 1,300 people and attendees travelled from Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

 

FAIRFIELD — Gloria and Gilbert Dante drove from Spokane, Washington. Jose and Marites Calma flew in from Hawaii.

Both couples were among the 1,300 people in the Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly hall Friday for the first day of a three-day annual regional convention for the deaf, blind and those with impaired hearing.

Some of them traveled from as far as Alaska.

Gilbert Dante lost his hearing when he was 7 months old.

“He couldn’t hear anything,” Gloria Dante, his wife of 43 years, said.

He was sent to the Berkeley School for the Deaf, where he learned alongside John Tracy, the deaf son of actor Spencer Tracy.

Gloria Dante learned sign language when she married him. He used to spell words backward in sign language just to tease her, she said.

The couple became Jehovah’s Witnesses after their son died of Sudden Infant Death syndrome in 1972. They traveled for several years to Southern California to attend conferences that offered services for those with hearing impairments.

“He is in his element (here),” said Gloria Dante. “He is hearing the Bible through his eyes.”

Marites Calma grew up in a small Jehovah’s Witness congregation with no services for the deaf. She would go to meetings but not understand what was being said.

“It’s hard to connect with God if you don’t know him,” LeConte Hall, a Vacaville resident who spoke Friday afternoon on the topic “When Tired,” said.

Marites Calma said through her husband of 20 years that the American Sign Language conference is “in my language” and gives her the opportunity to meet with other deaf Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Bryce Henry of Santa Rosa learned sign language and speech. He’s more comfortable signing, he said.

The American Sign Language conventions draw him closer to God, he said, because the Scriptures are brought to life rather than just reading them on paper. He has many passages of Scripture, in American Sign Language, on his phone.

This year’s convention has more audio than in the past, Hall said. Most of the deaf people attending are accompanied by speaking family and/or friends.

“For each deaf person here, there’s probably another two or three people with them,” Hall said.

Nearly 50 videos will be shown over the course of the convention. About 90 percent will have audio as well as American Sign Language.

Speaking people at the convention are asked to use sign language out of respect to those with hearing impairments. A bevy of monitors are spread throughout the huge room so all can see.

According to JW.org, the first sign language service was held in Korea 40 years ago. Today, there are more than 4,000 sign languages services in Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Fairfield Kingdom Hall offers American Sign Language services at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. Saturdays at 2010 E. Tabor Ave.

Hall is part of the services. He learned American Sign Language from the deaf mother of a friend. He began working as interpreter while in his teens.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses website has translated its material in 28 different sign languages.

The free convention is open to the public and begins at 9:20 a.m. It’s in the Assembly Hall at 2020 Walters Road, behind the Kingdom Hall.

For more information, visit https://www.jw.org/ase/jehovahs-witnesses/conventions

 

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      “When we do preach to them and they read the Bible and realize ‘Hey my grandfather is just sleeping’ that means they have to leave these traditions that obviously contradict what the scriptures say, to serve Jehovah.”
      Fleming said that when he arrived in 1996 there were about 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country and that now there are about 40,000.
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      “Many people in Cameroon make the change. I wouldn’t have stayed there for 20 years if we weren’t having wonderful success,” he said.

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      A man takes notes during a session of a Jehovah’s Witness convention at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. File Tri-City Herald

       
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      "The water baptism on Saturday is a highlight that many people find particularly joyful," Brown added.
      Local congregations will be distributing a special invitation to the public and welcoming them to attend, Brown said.
      "The best way residents of Barrie can be involved in this event is simply by accepting our invitation to attend the convention," he said. "Everyone is welcome. It is absolutely free: no admission charge, no collection. Come for a day, come for an hour, drop by over your lunch break.
      "We eagerly invite all friends of peace to attend. Although we are renowned for our enthusiasm about our Bible-based hope, we are not contagious. Visitors will find the mood to be joyful, dignified and very welcoming."
      He said a convention of this size also brings benefits to the local economy.
      "Convention delegates from central Ontario have travelled to Kitchener in past years. Clearly, Barrie is a much more convenient location for people in our area," Brown said. "Additionally, the Molson Centre is an ideal venue for our event. It is large enough for the expected 3,700 delegates, easily accessed and plenty of parking.
      "Your city's hotels, restaurants, services and general facilities all add up to an ideal location for our regional convention this year."
      Kathleen Trainor, executive director of Tourism Barrie, said a convention of this size has obvious benefits to local businesses, adding there are more more than 1,300 rooms available in the city, including the 260 rooms at Georgian Suites at Georgian College that are available during the summer.
      "Almost all the hotel rooms are sold out. There are very few rooms left. Based on what the hotels have told me, a little less than half (of the 3,700) are staying overnight. They're not filling up all the rooms, but there is certainly an economic impact of new money coming into the city," she said, adding that can include shopping, eating, buying gas and even the use of public transit.
      "We can also make the assumption that people who come here for a convention have probably tacked on some day trips or stayed somewhere in the region along the way," Trainor said. "Certainly, people coming into your area to visit is very important because it can also attract them to come and stay permanently."
      To learn more about this weekend's convention, visit www.jw.org.

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