I’m Ashley Paul, and this is how I’m living deeply.
I’m energized by working with the deaf community. The language is very expressive- I love to talk to people and use my hands, so I think the ability to be expressive and be myself (because that’s who I am even when I’m not signing) makes it something I naturally love. The other part- I feel like God has put me on this earth to help people. Nothing gives me greater joy than helping deaf children access language. It unlocks everything, and it’s not just the learning. I spent five years working at TSD (Tennessee School for the Deaf), where I had the role of mom, therapist, teacher- all these different roles- because a lot of times, these children have really hard lives and backgrounds. Their parents often don’t learn sign language and therefore struggle to communicate with their children. Being a trusted person for deaf children, then, is very much a passion of mine. I want them to know they’re loved, wanted, safe, and to see Christ through my actions. Maybe you’ve seen me and other members of the ASL (American Sign Language) ministry signing during CSPC’s 11:00 service- that actually started through my teaching job at TSD. A few years ago, I started clicking with a TSD student, Ellie, whose family goes to CSPC. I’d seen Ellie’s mom interpreting for her and another boy during Sunday School and the 8:15 service. I thought, ‘That’s a really big load for her to do that. She needs some help.’ So I dipped my toe in the water, told her to let me know if she needed any help. Nothing immediately came of that. But fast forward a couple years, to spring of 2021, and I started helping with the TSD drama club after school. Ellie was in that, and we started to form a bond. We talked about church and things; hung out a lot. Around this time, I invited one of my adult friends at TSD to church and she said yes. So I told Ellie and her mom, Donna, I’d be signing for her, and if they wanted to come to the 11:00 service (they were still going to the 8:15) Donna and I could rotate doing the signing. We did that briefly, but it fizzled because Ellie got a job that kept her away on Sundays and my friend stopped coming.
Around the spring of 2022, I started talking to Ellie at school, telling her how much I missed her at church, and she said, ‘I need to start coming back.’ So she quit her job and returned to the 11:00 Sunday service at CSPC. She and I also began a discipling relationship. Over the summer, it reached the point where Ellie was coming to CSPC regularly and my friend was starting to come back again as well. I was also part of a summer program with them at TSD, which was key. In the deaf community, if you get one or two people on board with something, word spreads quickly. They’re all about community, friendship, and fellowship- so another woman, Tosha, started coming in the fall to join my friend and Ellie, who by this point were there consistently. While all this was unfolding, I had left TSD –my heart was still there, but I needed a break- and started teaching at CAK this school year. I sensed the Lord stirring in my heart that the ASL ministry at CSPC needed to be a thing, and this was a way He could still use me and keep my signing skills sharp. So I just kept pursuing it. I said, ‘Okay, what are the things we need to do to make this happen?’ It was terrifying because I had to step out in faith and ask hard questions of the church staff- with the feeling inside of, ‘Is it my place or not my place to do this?’ I had a big vision. Equal access for everybody is important- that was my motivation in starting this. I was asking, ‘How can we make equal access a thing for deaf people at CSPC?’ Deaf people are one of the most unreached groups for the Gospel. They need it in their language: ASL. It had grown to the point where one to three deaf people each week were consistently at the 11:00 service, so Donna and I were signing weekly. And then came some more stages of growth- God expanded our team.
Caitlin, an interpreting major at UT, saw us signing in the church service last fall. She reached out and said, ‘If you ever want some help, I’d love to interpret.’ I was like ‘Wow! We’re going to expand this thing. We have another person willing to help. Great!’ Around this time, God added another piece: my best friend Megan, who teaches at TSD. There would be random Sundays where her family wouldn’t be at their church, so she’d come to CSPC and help me interpret. And I’m like, ‘Lord, I don’t want to pray this because I don’t know if it’s your will, but could you just bring them to our church?’ I guess it was a selfish prayer in one sense, but the Lord answered it! Megan and her family started coming to CSPC regularly in November. Plus there was another college student –a young man, Aiden- who expressed interest in interpreting. He saw the friend group around Ellie at church, and he was intrigued. Eventually he came up and said, ‘I want to learn ASL.’ So he started learning and even took an ASL class at UT. Late fall, he came up to me and announced, ‘I have exciting news. I changed my major to interpreting!’ He had been strictly an economy major before that! A couple other speech pathology majors also showed interest, too, so Megan and I held an interpreting workshop one Sunday afternoon. Three college students, my mom (who was an elementary and high school interpreter when I was growing up- that’s how I got hooked!) and Donna showed up. So from all that, we ended up with about half a dozen people working on being trained to interpret during the service. We truly have an ASL team at CSPC! The 11:00 service is covered every week. But my vision was still bigger. I thought that if deaf people couldn’t make it to the service on a Sunday, they needed to be able to watch it back, just like the rest of us. We needed a live stream option for them. After talking with the tech team, we decided to set up a camera to try it out- and it stunk. There were cords all over, people walking in front of the camera. We were like, ‘Okay, that was horrible. What are some other options?’
We learned about a cordless arrangement where we could just set up a camera and it would ‘talk’ to a box in the technical booth. So the church purchased it and we practiced using it a couple weeks. I sent the link to one of my deaf friends who hasn’t been able to make it to church. She received the feed and said it looked great. Bottom line- they just added the feature to the website live stream in February. It’s right underneath the main live stream, and you can click it and watch whoever’s doing the interpreting during the 11:00 service. It’s all working so well, and everyone’s been accommodating. James sends his sermon notes so we have those beforehand to prepare, and since Landon’s my husband, I always have the music in advance. I’m in awe- I can’t even find a word for how I feel looking back and seeing how the Lord’s seen this through. It’s obvious this passion I have is from Him and He’s working through that. It gives me chills and it makes me want to cry. My faith has just grown exponentially- because I had to do a lot of things that were scary, and I wasn’t always sure how it was going to go. But He’s met me in every single one of those situations and proven to be faithful. So I just feel like I’ve grown in my faith and trust that He’s holding me fast. He has a plan and purpose for every single detail of this. For me, that might even mean going back to TSD. I’ve been praying and wrestling with that desire, thinking, ‘The Lord brought me here to CAK. I need to not choose something solely based on emotions, but really make sure it’s what the Lord has for us.’ Well, through a series of circumstances, we’ve seen Him affirm that direction. I’ve told CAK I’m not coming back next fall- I have no idea if TSD will take me back, but we’re leaving the door open for that possibility. All over my life, the Lord’s just really impressing on me the importance of sharing the gospel with the deaf community, and it’s a priority the whole ASL ministry team has embraced. We interpreters are the means by which they ‘hear’ the gospel- what a privilege and honor to serve in that way.