Twenty-one-year-old Tooele resident, Johanna Gale recently returned from a mission she served for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York where she used sign language as her main form of communication.
She leaves for college this week where she will study sign language.
Gale received her mission call at the end of August 2021 calling her to serve in the New York, New York City Mission.
To prepare for her mission Gale attended a missionary preparation class at her church every Sunday. She also picked the brains of several missionaries she knew, and began working to learn sign language on her own.
Prior to her mission, Gale had never used sign language. She didn’t have much time to prepare before leaving on her mission in October 2021.
“I was scared to death to go on a mission with a language I had to learn,” Gale said. “I didn’t think I was good enough to learn it. It seemed super stressful.”
Gale’s sign language training included the time she spent at home learning after her mission call, two weeks of training over Zoom, and four weeks at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
After that, she was sent off.
Gale began by serving in lower Manhattan using mainly sign language. She was there for six months.
“I lived in Manhattan but we could teach anybody who was deaf who lived in New York,” Gale explained.
When Gale arrived, she was quite literally thrown into speaking sign language fluently and interpreting.
“They threw me right into it there, because there aren’t a lot of members who speak sign language and can hear,” Gale explained. “During the sacrament meetings, we had to interpret it the whole time for the members who didn’t know sign language. The very first Sunday, they passed me the microphone to start interpreting in front of everyone. I was so stressed, but I think being thrown into it, you learn it a lot faster than you think you would.”
Along with being thrown into signing, Gale and her companion had to work hard to find people who were deaf.
“The sign language area of the mission is considered the hardest area, because you can’t just go find deaf people walking down the street,” Gale said. “One of my companions and I decided to totally change that. We weren’t going to act like the area was a hard one. We were going to go find people.”
Gale has many fond memories of her time in Manhattan.
“We taught this lady from China who was deaf and also blind,” Gale said. “We got to use tactile sign language where instead of the person looking at you signing, they put their hands on top of yours while you sign, kind of Helen Keller style, so they can feel the words. It was super awesome.”
By the end of the first six months in Manhattan, Gale said she was completely fluent in sign language.
“I could understand just about anyone,” she said.
After her time in Manhattan, Gale was transferred to Brooklyn, Long Island, and Bridgeport, Connecticut speaking English and a little bit of sign language.
“What was cool about these places is that I always met at least one deaf person that I could teach for a little bit,” Gale explained.
Gale ended her mission serving again in Manhattan using the sign language she had learned.
“Being able to serve in such a different place than where I grew up here in Utah allowed me to meet people with so many diversities,” Gale said. “It was cool to see how God was preparing his people for us no matter where they came from or what they looked like.”
Gale arrived home from her mission in March 2023.
“I loved my mission; I loved New York; and I loved the opportunity to learn a language that lets you meet so many people that I don’t think I would have otherwise been able to meet … It was a super good experience,” Gale said.
Gale’s mission left such a huge impact on her that she will begin attending the deaf studies program with an emphasis on interpreting at Utah Valley University beginning this week. During her time in the program, Gale will learn about the culture of the deaf community and their history, and dive into different aspects of interpretation, such as medical interpretation and interpretation of different school subjects.
The program will take her about two years, because she completed many general studies classes before she left for her mission.
“I’m going to get my interpreter certification and try to use that as my career for the rest of my life,” Gale said. “I’m going to learn all sorts of skills to interpret on different levels.”
Gale isn’t set on an exact job, but she is interested in medical interpretation. She also said it would be neat to be an interpreter at the Super Bowl.
During her free time, Gale enjoys spending time with family, hiking, traveling, meeting new people, attending concerts, reading, and playing her guitar.
Gale wants to encourage people to do things they are afraid of.
“Never say no to an opportunity to do something that scares you,” she said. “That’s what’s going to help you grow. If you don’t take that jump, you’re never going to grow and you’re never going to know the people you would have met and the things that have changed you. Being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid; It means doing it even though you are afraid.”
Sign language missions are rare, but there are several missions using sign language in the United States, including those in New York, Washington D.C., California, Texas, Washington State, and one here in Utah.