The ways we praise God come in many forms—prayer, reflecting on Scripture, sharing testimony, and serving others are just a few. With the understanding that worship is not limited to one method, the Hands of Praise ministry at Whittier church was created to help people connect with God on a deeper level through music and sign language.
This ministry was formed in 2019 after Whittier church member Kimberly Matthews was asked by her nieces and nephew to teach them to sign to the song I Can Only Imagine. Then, a few more young ladies at the church asked to be taught. This inspired Matthews to start a more formal practice, and she asked her cousin, Hillorie Tambaoan, to co-lead.
Both Matthews and Tambaoan are members of Mere Image, Whittier’s longtime music ministry. Though not fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), Matthews has been signing to music since middle school and would often accompany Mere Image’s performances in ASL.
After the group was created, Hands of Praise’s first few performances were in November and December 2019. When covid pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, the group took a break from practice and live performances. This year, Hands of Praise has started performing again at Whittier church and at other locations, such as La Sierra University church.
Now that the group is performing again, practice takes place whenever members can fit it in, often between Sabbath School and the church service.
“One of our positive challenges is that our church is very active in ministry,” Matthews shared. “People who want to participate in this ministry also want to participate in everything else.” Because it can be hard to get the entire group together every time, the ministry has an open-door policy. “They can come when able to, and if you can’t, it’s OK,” Matthews added.
Many of the members are in high school or college, which has given Matthews and Tambaoan an opportunity to mentor the young ladies and equip them for leadership.
“We always start and end our practices with prayer, and we talk about what’s going on in their lives,” Matthews said. “Hillorie and I try to set good examples for these young ladies. It’s been great for us as a group and for them to minster in this way.”
Matthews hopes that through this ministry, others can see that there are a multitude of ways to praise God.
“I pray that this is something that will inspire others to ministry,” Matthews said, “in whatever ministry God is calling them to do.”