'Who are these signs for anyways?' - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Students at Bwiru Boys Technical School holding up signs

On a sunny Saturday morning in September, students at Bwiru Boys Technical School in Mwanza, where I teach, marched the short walk from the classroom area to the soccer field in solidarity together — hearing, deaf and of all abilities. The almost 1,000-strong group carried three simple signs — white sheets stretched between wood rods with words in Swahili stenciled in red block letters. The signs read:

  • Lugha ya alama Mawasiliano kwa Elimu Jumuishi — Tanzania Sign Language for Integrated Education.
  • Siku ya kuibua vipaji vya wanafunzi wenye mahitaji maalumu — The day to visualize the abilities of students with special needs.
  • Wanafunzi wenye mahitaji maalumu wakiwezeshwa wanaweza. Familia, Jami and Taifa Tuwawezeshe — Students with special needs can succeed if their efforts are supported. Families, Community and Nation, let’s support them!

The march wasn’t a protest organized by students, but part of an event planned with the teachers. The short march never left the school property and other than the students, only we teachers would have read the signs. At the time I thought, Who are these signs for anyways? Many of the teachers have specific training in special education, including sign language.

I wonder if Christ’s followers had a similar reaction to his insistence (in today’s Gospel) about the signs of the end of times. How many times do I have to be reminded of my own mortality to believe and act on it — to really live each day with the urgency of a life passing by? How many times I wondered, have I heard, read and repeated, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice,” as in the Psalms today, and other similar passages about the triumph of justice, and yet still I struggle to actually believe it.

The two football teams lined up

Maybe the signs the students carried really were for us. Both students and teachers need the reminders. In our inclusive education environment, sometimes we teachers slip into speaking without using signs, and explanations are thus lost to the Deaf in our classes. In addition to the signs they carried together, the students showed us reminders of their abilities through the activities of the event. They showed off and sold well-built wooden stools they had made in the workshop. Deaf students played a football match, and won, against a team of their hearing peers.

November 13 happens to be World Kindness Day, an interreligious effort to promote peace through kindness. What a simple concept, that I need to be reminded of constantly! When I think of working for justice, images that come to mind are ones of marches, civil disobedience, mostly of confrontation. That I might also think of kindness, understanding and empathy as paths to do justice, seems a bit more reachable than the more upending type of activism of my initial impressions.

Extending the message of the students’ signs, we can easily get to:

  • “Learn each other’s languages to understand and appreciate each other”
  • “Take a day to appreciate the success of others.”
  • “Spread kindness starting in our Families, Communities, Nation, and between nations!”

Just like with us teachers, though, in order to put these noble intentions in action, we need plenty of reminders both in word and in action, as well as follow-through with both diligence and kindness, to ourselves and others.

Scripture reflection for the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Nov. 13, 2022 (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time).

For more scripture reflections from Maryknoll lay missioners, click here.


Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' area director for Africa and Asia. He also teaches math to deaf students at Bwiru Boys Technical Secondary School. Steve and his wife, Loyce, have been Maryknoll lay missioners since 2018.