It was a May evening and I had come with a friend to a pleasant housing colony in South Delhi to meet Shreya and her parents Sujaya and Bobby; and I was excited.
Some months earlier I had written something for a Disability ToolKit to help churches achieve greater disability inclusion and I remembered that earlier Bobby and Sujaya had hinted that their experience in our church with Shreya had been very good so I had asked if we could meet to find out more.
Sujaya and her mother-in-law Eva welcomed us. After a few minutes 18 year old Shreya ambled in wearing a floaty, pink chiffon top, her hair escaping from her plait. She responded warmly in English and Hindi to our greetings and asked her Mum if she should bring water for us, only sitting down after she was sure we were catered for.
Sujaya had already begun to tell us that she attributed Shreya’s social integration to Sunday school. “She was afraid and would cry in a crowd but after going to Sunday school she learned to sit amongst others calmly.”
Although her parents are from Orissa, Shreya was born in Kolkata. When she was six months old she was detected as having Down’s syndrome; a genetic abnormality where there is an extra copy of chromosome 21. Such children are late meeting milestones and may have varying degrees of intellectual challenges delaying and limiting their ability to learn. I wondered how Sujaya felt when she realised her lovely daughter was different “Oh I thought God makes everything beautiful in his own time and so it would be with Shreya” she told me. As we continued to talk I realised that Sujaya’s faith has remained unwavering in that conviction.
A change in Bobby’s work brought them to Delhi. Sujaya says she realised the move was answered prayer as in Delhi there were better opportunities for Shreya. “Soon after we arrived here the maid took Shreya and her younger brother Shant to play in the park”. Sujaya told us “I think Shreya must have become angry and hit out at another child because from then on everyone called her mental” “We were so hurt by that” Eva interjected, looking sad at the memory. “She would greet whoever she saw and they would ignore her and keep their distance” Sujaya explained.
A moment later Sujaya’s face brightened as she told us that one day, responding to a ring on the door bell, she found herself face to face with a Telugu woman enquiring if she was the mother of the girl who was a little different. The visitor explained that she was a Christian who lived a couple of blocks away, she had seen Shreya and felt called to visit and pray with the family. Sujaya was amazed, that a stranger would reach out in Christian love so thoughtfully. That meeting has turned out to be the central pillar of the way the family prays for Shreya. “For ten years we have met together every Friday for fasting prayer just for Shreya, praying for the Lord to work in her life.”
“On moving to Delhi, at first we attended a local church but they did not have anything special for children and I could never really join in as Shreya was so fretful.” Sujaya explained. “Then a friend told us about the vibrant Sunday School at DBF South and we started to go there. I would still sit outside until one day the superintendent suggested that I leave Shreya with the Sunday School teachers and go along to listen to the sermon. She said the teachers would call me if Shreya was too distressed or things got out of hand. So she started to go to Sunday school. Then one summer, two or three years later, when there were no classes Shreya agreed to come into the main auditorium and since then she has been fully integrated. The gentle handling of the Sunday School teachers made a huge difference in her life.”
Shreya joined the conversation telling us that she enjoyed going to church. We talked about Disability Sunday when she was given a slot in the Sunday service to read out the 23rd Psalm, which she did with some trepidation but great joy. Then she sang the first verse of her favourite song Aaj ka din for us in her slightly deep, gravelly voice, much to everyone’s delight. Then her brother Shant joined us and cheerfully told us that Shreya loves him and is always on his side in any kind of family discussion.
Bobby laughed as he told us that she loves to pray. “She prays for everyone in the family, all their friends and even the neighbour’s driver. Sometimes she prays for so long we try and stop her by saying “amen” loudly but she will not be deterred.” We all laughed and then reflected on the fact that here is a young woman who remains like a child because of a genetic disorder but yet she so beautifully reflects Jesus’ teaching that we must all be like little children.
“You know Shreya is improving all the time, she can read from class III books” Sujaya told us. “Now that she is older we thought we should take her out of her special school and join her in a place for vocational training but our prayers are that she will learn to read and understand the Bible and be a living witness. When we are praying for that and she continues to learn in school then how can we move her?”
Smiling, Sujaya tells us that Shreya is already influencing people’s lives. “The Telugu lady has told us that she has experienced so many spiritual blessings since coming in touch with our family which she did because of Shreya”.