THE BEAUTIFUL DISABILITY

Good to be reminded.

Vinayana's World

A person on a wheelchair,
Isn’t really beautiful?
Beauty is specific,
They say,

Beauty standards,
Are already set,

Disability can be beautiful,
Yes, disability is beautiful,

Tall, fair and slim,
Is called beautiful,

What about,
Short, dark and fat?

They don’t really come,
In the beauty standard,
And a disability?

Disability can be beautiful,
Yes, disability is beautiful,

Does it fit into a
Beauty standard?
I don’t think so,
A person with a disability,

Were never thought as beautiful!!
Why is beauty so standardized?

Disability can be beautiful,
Yes, disability is beautiful,

Beauty is not outwards,
But it’s inwards,

Having a beautiful heart,
Is important than,
Having a beautiful face,

There could be no standard,
To beauty,
There could be no standard,
To beauty,

A person on a wheelchair,
Could be beautiful,
Yes, a person with a disability,
Is beautiful…

View original post

Going to the office!

Ava reached home and called up his sister to tell her he would be going to the office too, from Monday. There was great merriment and no one was more happy than Ava. You see he came from Manipur to live in Delhi with his sister and her husband and two children  after his Dad died, and he kind of minded that they all went out to school or the office and he had nowhere special to go.  He had made some visits to the local gym which he had enjoyed and he liked it that the guys there would high five a greeting to him each day but that wasn’t the same thing at all.

His first morning wasn’t a total success as he was so excited that he hadn’t eaten breakfast and felt ghastly by about 11.30 but that was soon sorted as his other sister had stayed with him and now  as regular as clockwork, he reports to the boss on arriving and then heads off to his table where he begins his work folding products ready for display or shipping for export.
Not very inspiring work you might think but Ava has Down Syndrome a disorder that has caused him to have delayed development and although he is in his early 30’s this is his first work experience.

Nice story as far as it goes but what has it to do with this blog? Well I suppose it is an attempt to share one way that Christians can reach out practically to people with disabilities, and it might be one you have never thought about before.

When Jesus interacts with disabled people he does so in a number of ways but often there is thread running through which shows that Jesus cares and He does something practical that allows the person with a disability a chance for a better life. A great example is the story of the man with the withered hand (Mathew 12:9-14).  This story is about a man who has a shriveled hand who is in the synagogue at the same time as Jesus one Sabbath.  We don’t know anything else about the man. The religious leaders were there too of course and they were always trying to catch Jesus out and they try again here by asking –

“Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?”

Now in the normal reading of the law it would not have been, but look what Jesus replies

“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? how much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.”

Then Jesus asks the man to stretch out his hand and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other one.

You may think this is an amazing story but maybe not something you can be doing since you don’t have the gift of healing.  But on closer inspection we can see Jesus highlights the intrinsic value of this man (one most people might well have thought wasn’t up to much since he had one useless hand) and brings him to a condition that will allow him a fuller place in society.  Now that we can all do, indeed, as Christians we must, because it was what our master did again and again.

For Ava, getting some work experience is making him happy but he is also part of a larger society that begins to see Ava in a different way as someone who can work; his value in this cruel word that measures people by who they are and what they can do will begin to change.

It is somewhat of a tragedy that all too often people have an idea that if a person has a disability they will be unemployable.  Of course it is a false notion as we have blind academics, university professors in wheel chairs, athletes and musicians, CEOs and at least one Church of South India Pastor who uses a wheelchair. As a Christian employer, or Christian with influence in your work place, or maybe as a Christian in an NGO, Ava’s delight at “going to the office” and the wonderful model of our Lord and master can be an encouragement to you to see in what ways you could provide work experience or employment to a person like him.

To help you think about this a little more check out Engage Disability’s Toolkit http://engagedisability.com/resources/  

Called Out in Friendship

adventure-1807524_960_720

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:46-48

 

Have a good look at Jesus’ interaction with people with disabilities in the Bible and you might be surprised to see that he never preached to them; he healed, and restored, he encouraged them and their families in their faith and very often he used the occasion to teach others.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” Mark 10:49

In many cases Jesus calls them out, and approaches them. He asks what they want and Luke records in the book of Acts that people are amazed at such miracles and many people believed.

This is an example for Christians in India now. Many of us do not have the gift of healing but there are all kinds of examples of how church is reaching out to people with disabilities bringing Glory to God and restoring hope where it may be failing or strained.

Vinay worked in a property dealership until he had a stroke which knocked him flat whilst out buying the milk one evening. He regained consciousness and survived but has been left with walking and speech difficulties. Aman and Esther (names changed) recently moved and needed some help at home, Vinay’s Mum got the job and it did not take long before they heard about Vinay and saw the anguish of his Mum at his changed condition from bread-winner working man to invalid, dependent on his mother for everything.

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing  his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Aman and Esther did just as Christ did, they called out to Vinay and his Mum taking them along to church with them, introducing them to the vibrant congregation at The Hub and encouraging them to come forward for regular prayer. After church they often hang out in the park with Aman and Esther’s children and the two men have been to the movies together; just the sorts of things one might do with any other friend. These are small acts of kindness but when a Christian is kind it brings glory of God.

Vinay is in a hard and sad place at the present time, with thoughts of suicide and Aman is trying to work through that and help him to find fresh meaning for his changed life. They pray and Aman talks to others to see if they have any ideas. This is caring and kindness and probably the type of response that the Lord looks for from this his church.

If you would like to know more about reaching out in friendship and love to someone with disabilities who is struggling, please consider downloading the Engage Disability Toolkit  which is designed to help the Christian community accompany and serve alongside those with disabilities.

 

Inviting People In

all are invited

The chances are that if your church is evangelical you spend some time praying for “people groups” who have never heard the Gospel, perhaps a tribe in a remote part of India or a nation far across the world.  I doubt that you will ever have considered people with disabilities as a “unique people group” forgotten or missed out for the gospel but for very different reasons.

In India there may be as many as 2.1 crore people with disabilities and we as Christians have the perfect environment to welcome them in.  We have a Lord and master who came alongside people with disabilities as a routine.  We have a gospel of love which is to reach to the ends of the earth and to all creation…remember what Jesus says?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Acts 1:8

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15

                                                                                                                                                                    I guess that means people with disabilities and their families and loved ones too. So how can we do that?  I mean a missionary can head off somewhere “unreached”; a young pastor can relocate in order to plant a new church but where are people with disabilities, especially the ones who have not heard the gospel? Maybe you’ve never really thought about that.

Engage Disability’s Disability Inclusion ToolKit[1] states

People with disabilities might often be hidden in the church neighbourhood and therefore not receiving any services. Churches and Christians need to be in the community actively reaching out to those with disability and linking them in to health, rehabilitation, education, employment and government services. They need to be included in social events, festivities and church music and drama presentations.

I have recently heard of one approach which I thought was worth sharing. Christians in Chittor District in Andhra Pradesh visited one of many Bhavitha centres in the district that provide integrated education.  They went to meet the children and special education teachers to find out their struggles.  When they heard they needed some activity materials, mats chairs and a cupboard they found a way to donate a second-hand cupboard and buy play materials, mats and chairs.  They handed them over at a little function with a lunch and they encouraged parents to send the children to school regularly.

This is not social work, it is Christians witnessing God’s love and if the school is near a church it is one way to find out about families living with disabilities in your neighbourhood who may not have ever thought of entering your church.  Those are people who may appreciate encouragement, love and friendship and who can be invited to to join in special religious and social events organised by the church.

[1] A resource produced by Engage Disability to guide church communities in good ways to respond to disability. It can be downloaded here.

A Glimpse of The Kingdom of God

Hand holding a microphone

I started this blog because I thought there were stories of how church in India is responding to people with disabilities that are not being recorded and shared. The following is just such a story.

In the church I attend a microphone is passed around for new people to introduce themselves.  One Sunday about six months ago Shreya, who is not a new-comer, was most anxious to have the mike.  Her mother tried to indicate to her that it was inappropriate but Shreya insisted, even to the point of calling out “Pastor Pastor” in an attempt to appeal to him to agree to let her speak.

Pastor checked that all the-new comers had introduced themselves and then he asked the usher to pass Shreya the mike.  She took it gleefully and asked everyone to pray for – well for something which wasn’t quite clear – and then she mentioned someone’s name and sat down.  Our Pastor paused for a moment and then admitted that he could not understand what Shreya had said leaving her Dad to explain that a relative was getting married and Shreya wanted us all to pray for her. The coming wedding was important enough to ignore her Mum’s appeal for silence. (Remember blind Bartimaeus who would also not be silenced in Mark 10:46-52)

For me, there were three outstanding moments in the incident; the first when Pastor agreed for the mike to be passed to Shreya, the second when she asked us to pray for something that was important to her and the third, when Pastor admitted he did not understand what Shreya had said.

Shreya has Down’s syndrome which is a disability that has slowed down her intellectual development and which results in her sentences being a little confused.  Pastor knows that, but still he encouraged her to speak, laying bare his own vulnerability in admitting he could not understand what she said. As for Shreya, well her family have prayed for more than a decade that she would develop enough to read the Bible and witness for Christ; there, with the mike in her hand, she had indeed witnessed to her belief in the power of prayer to a loving God.

As I released the breath I had been holding I understood I had seen a glimpse of the Kingdom of God; a place where those who call out will be heard; a kingdom where we will be equally vulnerable and where those who are different will be able to pray, praise and worship God just as they are.

“ Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth he began to shout “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more “Son of David have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi I want to see.”

“Go” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.                                                                   Mark 10:46-52

If you would like to know more about how you can improve the response of churches in India to disability please consider downloading Engage Disability Toolkit

 

PIL or Love?

Picture1

I am in a Whatsapp group that is looking at social inclusion for people with disabilities.  This last week there was a message from someone asking about the process for filing a PIL petition (Public Interest Litigation) seeking to make places of worship in India accessible. There were a number of replies including one reporting “We have got kind of a positive verdict on a PIL to make Hindu Temples accessible in Tamil Nadu.”  My first response was “whoa, we are going to get left behind and lose our chance to lead with Christian love and hospitality.”

Inherent in the commandment “love thy neighbour as thyself” is the concept of open hospitality, a calling and welcoming-in to become part of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is for all.  We know that Jesus paid particular attention to all kinds of people with disabilities; the blind, those with withered arms, the lame and paralyzed all experienced his loving touch transforming their lives.

The system of PIL in India seeks to provide an opportunity for anyone to file a petition for something that will be for “the public good.”  A successful PIL will result in the court delivering social justice.

Let us think about this a little: the Whatsapp message was about a PIL seeking to make places of worship accessible; that sounds like an issue for the “public good” given that there are probably as many as 26 million people with disabilities in India now and very many will struggle to access places of worship. But as Christians do we not wish to welcome people with disabilities into our churches and prayer halls?  Do we mean to exclude them?  Do we even think about them?

This is not a social issue that is only the concern of activists or NGOs, The Psalmist says

“All your works praise you, Lord;  your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom  and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts  and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.”                                                                                                         Psalm 145: 10-13

Are we not the faithful people mentioned here and aren’t we supposed to speak of the glory of God’s kingdom so that all people may know of God’s mighty acts? Church is who we are and also where we meet to tell of the glory of God’s Kingdom and to praise Him. Accessible church is a matter of Christian duty founded on love and hospitality.

“Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame”                                                                                                                                                          Luke 14:21.

We already have the instructions; let us lead the way in sensitive understanding and act as salt and light, bringing God’s love to all and being an example.

Jesus says in John 13:34-35

“…As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

We must not wait for a PIL to be told to make our places of worship accessible for that would be to have missed a chance to give the Glory to God.

If you want to know how to make your church accessible (and much more) please contact Jubin at engagedisability@gmail.com and ask for a copy of the Disability Inclusion Toolkit prepared by Engage Disability.

Braille Scripture at Work

brille writing

One Sunday a while back I was lazing in one of the soft, roomy, easy chairs in the flat I rent here in Delhi when my phone rang.  It was Alamelu a friend who is an Assistant Professor at a college for women here in Delhi.  She said she was nearby with her husband and asked could we meet up. It was an easy question and I was soon hurrying off to meet them at gate number two of Green Park Metro station.

Alamelu and her husband Annavaram are new friends, people I met last year at a conference especially called to review how much progress was being made in a movement called Engage Disability which is striving to improve the response of church in India to disability.  They stood out at that conference because they walked everywhere hand in hand, then gradually it became apparent that they are a delightful couple with a love for the Lord who has touched their lives in rather special ways.

Annavaram and Alamelu are blind.  She can see a little but Annavaram nothing at all, yet as a team holding hands, they are able to move around confidently even in an unknown conference venue. I was to meet them both again a few months later at an academic conference arranged by Annavaram in his role as an Assistant Professor at a leading central university.  Now he was in Delhi for a visit and I was rushing off to bring them home.

We agreed to walk home from the station which proved to be a good lesson for me. I must have walked those gullies a thousand times but never before had I noticed how many obstacles there are if you cannot see.  With a good deal of “keep left” and “look out for the bollard” and “be careful here the footpath becomes rubble” and at one point a quick bend to move a plastic bottle out of the way, we arrived home and I experienced the joy of introducing my new friends to the family with whom I live.

But really what I wanted to share was something of what we talked about and most especially something Annavaram told me had deeply affected his life as a boy.

 Alamelu is happy to admit that if it were not for being visually impaired she would probably not have received any education at all.  In the small village where she was born there was precious little money and usually girls would be married early without going to school because of the cost involved. A relative told her parents about a school in Chennai especially for girls who were blind and he took her and got her admitted.  Alamelu is from Telugu speaking Chittor district in Andhra Pradesh so at first she struggled with Tamil but in the end she learned and would go on to become fluent in Tamil and English and able to read both in Braille.  Perhaps she would not have become a Christian either but for her blindness, her family is Hindu but her special school was Christian and she grew up learning about the Lord and in recent times took baptism.

Annavaram’s story was a little different; he joined school late and when he started at a Christian-run special school for the blind and learned Braille his world opened up in the most marvellous way.  He was just a boy but he was troubled with notions of God in an imperfect world and what on earth was the purpose for his life as a blind child.  Between lobbying for better food for the hostel boys, Annavaram discovered the wonders of the Bible in Braille.  And then he found John 9 and the story where the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned, the man born blind or his parents.  Jesus replied that neither had sinned

“but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3

Annavaram told us, that Jesus’ reply to the disciples was a reply to his own question about what the purpose of his life could be.  It was immediately obvious that what is required of him is to use his life to give Glory to God.

Do you understand?  It is not a fickle God who makes one to see and another to be blind, one to hear and another to be deaf, one to walk and run and dance and another to never be able to even stand.  Each one of us is unique and each has a purpose to live life to His glory.  Many of us will never hear that truth as clearly as Annavaram did and that is not a mistake, Annavaram was looking for answers and The Lord put scripture into his hands and a means to read it. In our times too Jesus speaks to each one of us, those with disabilities as much as to any other.

Alamelu and Annavaram are faithful Christians on their journey through life. He often preaches and both exhibited a depth of knowledge and love for scripture at sessions they shared at the Engage Disability conference.  To watch Alamelu pass her hands gently across the pages of her Braille addition of the gospels and hear the reverence in her voice as she reads aloud is a miracle and a joy.  I am so glad that they have both brought  to me a fresh view of life and the wondrous work of God in his children.

Braille takes up a lot of space on the page so each book of the Bible is printed separately.  Alamelu and Annavaram’s Braille Bibles were sent free of cost to them, book by book over a period of time, by Lutheran Braille Workers