“I don’t really know anyone who has a disability.” “Disability doesn’t affect my life or family, so I don’t really think about it.” “Care about disability ministry? Why?” “That’s not really my ‘thing’.”
Have you ever said (or thought) any of those things? I know I have. But then the question was posed to me, “Why should you care about disability?” I didn’t have a ready answer, but it made me begin to think. As I thought and prayed, here were some of the answers that came to me.
I should care first of all, because every human being is worth it. Every person on the earth was created by our Holy God with a purpose and a plan. Many of us do not see each other in that way. Think about the last time you encountered a person with a disability, and then think of your response. Many of us cannot remember the last time, because we choose to distance ourselves from the realm of the disabled. Most of us do not intentionally avoid such people, we simply are not aware, or we overlook the problem.
That is my story; I have little experience with any persons with a disability. I had a friend or two in elementary school in the Special Education program, but as I grew, I left those friends behind to focus on the life I was creating. I did not neglect those friends to hurt them, but simply because they no longer fit into my schedule and my lifestyle.
Throughout my life, I’ve read the Gospels repeatedly, and I never skipped over the stories of Jesus healing people with disabilities. While I read each story, I understood the spiritual lessons of each miracle, that we all have things that disable us. We are all crippled by our sins, thus we need a Savior who can heal each of us and turn us into a new creation. But, I had never really reflected on the physical acts of Jesus. I repeatedly missed the fact that He touched the disabled, and he conversed with them. In all of Jesus’s miracles, his most common acts were healings of the lame, the sick, the deaf, the blind, and the crippled. He did not forget or ignore such people. He knew their worth.
So, here I am, confronted with the fact that Jesus led by example. He specifically said “Come, follow me, and take up your cross,” and while I believe every person’s cross to bear is distinct, I also have come to believe the Lord has blanket burdens He wishes all His children to bear. He repeatedly commands us to care for the poor, the vulnerable, the least of these. From Genesis throughout the entire Bible, His message never changes – all people have worth. In the Psalms, He commands His followers to “defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless”(Ps 82:3). The Lord promises blessings to those are “generous to the poor”(Prov. 14:21) and “consider the poor!” (Ps 41:1). Jesus Himself said if we help the least of these, we are essentially helping Him because of His immense heart for the needy. Over and over again, He demonstrated who He meant by “the least of these” – often they are the lame, the sick, the deaf, the blind, and the crippled. He showed how to help them by His example of care, concern, justice and healing. And He asks us to follow in His footsteps.
Whether or not I wish to admit it, I have neglected a major request from the Lord, but I am changing. The Lord has graciously pointed out my disregard, and I am beginning to see each individual as someone worth fighting for. My eyes are opening to new opportunities to provide and care for those with disabilities, and through Women of Hope, I have found joy in serving the women in Sierra Leone who are affected by physical disabilities.
Working as the Fair Trade Intern at Women of Hope, Hannah Rivers joined the staff after graduating from Mississippi College in May 2013. She dreams of distant lands and passport stamps, and she hopes to continue in a career in economic development at an international non-profit.