Mormon Journal

By


Discussions in Sign Language

One of my finest missionary companions was Elder Nolan Bergeson. Though certainly not unfriendly or without a sense of humor, Elder Bergeson was reserved; most people thought of him as a quiet, serious-minded young man.

We made a good team, and as we found success and satisfaction in our labors, we also shared some of our previous experiences. One incident he mentioned almost casually I have never forgotten; it showed the complete dedication of Elder Bergeson.

It seemed he had been in a small congregation where a lady who was deaf and could not speak often attended. For a number of years she had told those who understood her that she would like to join the Church. However, she had not been baptized because she had never been taught the discussions by the missionaries.

It was a mission rule that all converts had to be taught the six missionary lessons before baptism. This lady could communicate only by sign language, and since none of the missionaries could speak the sign language of the deaf, none of them could teach her. Elder Bergeson met her and learned that she had been converted through reading the book A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. He also received from her a card with the signs for the alphabet on it.

Elder Bergeson was not a fast learner but he had a great desire to do the Lord’s work. He went to his apartment that night and memorized the sign for each letter of the alphabet. And the next day, in an intense six-hour finger-spelling session, he taught that lady the entire first missionary lesson, spelling each word to her and watching patiently as she spelled back the answer to each question.

Elder Bergeson might have stopped there and still been richly blessed. Instead, he went to the library, borrowed some books on sign language, and practiced continually. Each discussion became easier. The last discussion took only a little more time than it would have if both participants had been speaking audibly. The sister was baptized, and to this day in sign language she blesses Elder Bergeson’s name.

As I think of Elder Bergeson’s example, I am grateful that I was able to learn from such a fine companion. And I’m humbled, wondering how many times I have passed by a brother or sister who could have used my help if I had only had that kind of dedication.

Steven A. Wolfe, a school teacher, serves as Young Men’s president and priests’ quorum adviser in the Homer Branch, Alaska Anchorage Mission. Nolan Bergeson is an instructor for the deaf at the Utah State Training School. He has taught sign language classes for the past four years.