Cody Sandusky lets his hands do the singing when it comes to praising Jesus.
The 15-year-old is part of a group of teenagers at Calvary United Pentecostal Church in Jackson called Holy Hands. The seven-member group uses sign language to "sing" about God.
Five members of the group including Sandusky put on a public performance Saturday night at the church. Dressed all in black, they signed the words to 10 Christian songs played on CDs.
Sandusky attacks the air with his hand gestures. "In a song, you have to exaggerate to get it across," he said of his signing.
For some songs, such as a praise medley, they wore white gloves and were illuminated only by black lights. The lighting gave the illusion of hands floating in air.
Michelle Ganeles directs the group. Through their performances, she said, the group hopes to reach out to area residents who are deaf or hearing impaired.
"We have always had a special place in our heart for the deaf," Ganeles said. The church had several deaf members, although they have now all moved away.
But many of the church's young members have learned sign language.
Sandusky and his 13-year-old sister, Chelsea, learned sign language at an early age. Their aunt and uncle are deaf.
Their mother, Lisa Sandusky, often signs for the deaf. She joined the Holy Hands group in signing the praise song, "Lord I Lift Your Name on High."
Ganeles invited a number of deaf acquaintances to Saturday's performance. A pew was reserved for them. None showed up.
Still, Ganeles said the performance is a step toward reaching out to the deaf who often are ignored by the hearing community.
Lisa Sandusky said performances that feature interpreters for the deaf all too often don't give much thought to those in the audience who are hearing impaired. The interpreters who sign are often shoved to the side, making it less convenient for the deaf in the audience, she said. The Holy Hands performances put sign language front and center, she said.
To Ganeles, sign language is a beautiful way to communicate.
Under her direction, the teenagers sign with enthusiasm. How else, she asked, can you praise God?
Assistant pastor and young members minister Nathan Brown welcomes the efforts of the young members group.
Most hearing people are reluctant to reach out to the deaf, he said. "I think so many times we are intimidated by the deaf because we cannot communicate," he said.
But at this church, signing is common, he and others said.
The church in the past has held classes to teach sign language to its young members.
Brown sees sign language as a natural part of the mission of his church. "It's just another way to praise God," he said.
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