Sign from God
Sunday, June 12, 2011
By RICHARD PORTER Herald Staff Writer
Rachel Stanfield had her future all mapped out. She enjoyed signing and
wanted to be involved with that, but first, she thought, she had to get a
Then God began to tap her on the shoulder.
Stanfield said she ignored the tapping at first, but ultimately the
23-year-old realized that God wasn’t telling her to ditch her plan, simply
to reorganize it.
“It was definitely a God thing,” she said. “I was going to go to school to
be a teacher, and he changed my mind.”
But not right away.
“I told him, ‘No! This is what I want to do,’ and he kept saying, ‘No, this
is what you want to do,’ ” she said with sheepish grin.
Eventually, Stanfield accepted God’s nudging and enrolled at the Southwest
Collegiate Institute for the Deaf in Big Spring where she earned her
“It turned out to be the best thing I ever did,” she said.
Stanfield, who graduated from Plainview High School in 2006, completed that
two-year program in 2009 and now is working on a bachelor’s degree in
special education at Wayland Baptist University while volunteering at First
Baptist Church as an interpreter for deaf members,
Stanfield got her first exposure to American Sign Language as a child when
she attended a Texas Lions’ Camp for children with special needs. She has
Erb’s palsy, which can cause partial paralysis of her left arm, although
there is little evidence of a problem now.
Stanfield admitted that she isn’t really affected by the handicap any more,
but the experience of watching interpreters work with the deaf at the Lions’
camp introduced her to the notion of signing.
When she reached the point where she was beginning to struggle with God’s
plan for her future, Stanfield said she was aided by a youth minister at
Trinity Church, where she was a member. The minister gave her some
information on the school in Big Spring, but she filed it away.
“I just set it aside, but it kept popping back up,” she said. “I wanted to
do that, but I figured it would be later after I finished my bachelor’s
Once she made the decision to enroll in the program, she adapted quickly.
She really didn’t have much of a choice since the Big Spring campus was a
school for the deaf.
“I equate it to going to Spain to learn Spanish because I was in a deaf
community,” she said. “I immersed myself in it.”
Eventually it became so natural for her that when she came home to visit she
would sign to everybody and have to be reminded that her friends and family
were not deaf.
Once she returned to Plainview she began signing songs in the college
department at First Baptist Church – music is the part of signing she enjoys
the most – and a church member asked if she would interpret for deaf members
of the congregation. She agreed, and for the past year she has been a
fixture on the west side of the church’s auditorium translating songs and
the pastor’s sermon into sign language.
While signing is not difficult for her, Stanfield does admit to a couple of
The first is based on the fact that the sentence structure in American Sign
Language is backwards to the sentence structure in spoken English. For
instance, she cannot just sign that there is water in a cup.
“With sign language, you build a picture with your hands, so I would start
with the table and then go to the cup and then put the water in the cup,”
Given that and the fact that she has to hear what is spoken before she can
begin to build that picture, Stanfield acknowledged that she always works at
least a sentence behind the speaker.
While that challenge is technical, the other difficulty she has is personal,
Stanfield admitted with a smile.
“I think the most difficult part for me doing it in church is not preaching
. . . ,” she said. “At times, I find myself wanting to add to the sermon,
but then I think, ‘Wait! I’m not the preacher. I’m the interpreter.’ ”
Ultimately, Stanfield said she wants to merge her two degrees into a career
that allows her to teach classes with sign language for children with
In the meantime, she will continue to volunteer at FBC and wherever else she
can. Recently, she participated in Unger Library’s summer reading program.
Stanfield is the daughter of Wes Stanfield and Donna Stanfield and has six
siblings. She is as a student worker at Wayland and also tutors a young man
with Down syndrome.