(Image: Fredrick Nzwili /RNS)
The Zion Praise Team at St. Andrew's Church in East Africa is a deaf choir that captivates congregations with their worship songs in American Sign Language. The choir's leader, Priscah Odongo, works to keep the singers' signs in sync with the music and takes pride in showcasing the talents of people with hearing impairments. The choir's success dispels the misconception that people with disabilities are a burden to society, as its members have a variety of skills and talents, including electrical technicians, IT experts, dressmakers, and tailors.
The choir was founded in 1992 by a Korean missionary and integrated into St. Andrew's music ministry in 1997. Lucy Kahaki, a choir member since its inception, says singing is her passion and her energy matches that of the younger members. The choir's existence has helped convince Kenyan churches to embrace deaf culture, as they practice inclusion and show that age doesn't limit one's ability to worship through music.
Judy Kihumba, a hearing disability ministry coordinator at the church and founder of Talking Hands, Listening Eyes on Postpartum Depression, says the choir's singing is a soul-edifying and therapeutic activity for the members and allows them to feel closer to God. The choir also provides a religious education for its members, who may not have interacted with the Bible at a young age due to a lack of sign language knowledge in their families.
Sudan Nderitu, a long-serving hearing member of the choir, emphasizes the importance of showcasing the skills and talents of the deaf members. The choir debunks the myth that people with disabilities are only there to receive, as they give back to the community through their talents. The choir's example has been instrumental in promoting deaf culture and inclusion in Kenyan churches, a mission supported by the Rev. George Obonyo, a choir member and special minister for the deaf in the Nairobi Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.