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A Gospel-Driven Response to Disability

Do you know any doctor in your country who can cure her?’ An anxious and embarrassed mother held her 7-year-old girl who was born with profound learning and physical disabilities. The family lived across the lane in our small Southeast Asian home town, desperate for any help we could offer. Local doctors had misdiagnosed and expensively given her the wrong treatment, while neighbours discussed the supposed shameful causes of the girl’s impairments.

The United Nations estimates that 1 in 6 people in Asia and the Pacific live with some kind of impairment (senses, mobility, cognition, psychological).1 Asian countries are expected to see the highest levels of growth in the disabled population globally.2

The daily lives behind these statistics are often marked by social or religious isolation, a lack of access to appropriate diagnoses, education or healthcare; a lack of social and legal protection, financial pressures, often extreme poverty, and abuse.

As a ‘global fellowship of Christians with a heart for East Asia’ OMF must face these realities, as we ‘seek to present the good news of Jesus in every area of life’. We need to ask how the good news of Jesus should impact the lives of people with disabilities and how the gospel can challenge attitudes that devalue them.

A Call to Go…

OMF has a rich legacy of men and women who, following the Great Commission, have ‘gone into all the world’ to carry the good news of Jesus Christ across national and cultural boundaries. But as we seek to proclaim the gospel in all its fullness for people with disabilities, perhaps we still need to overcome the barrier of our own attitudes.

In the parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14.15-24), the Master’s invitations to the feast have been rejected. Rejection was common for Jesus. He consistently identified more readily with those society rejected: disabled or poor or scandalously sinful people. How should Jesus’ way of identifying with these people be reflected in our Christian communities?

The Master commands his servant twice to ‘go out quickly’ to the places in the town where the ‘poor, crippled, blind and lame’ were found. Places which were usually avoided by those with social status. People who were not invited to such feasts. How should this urgency and intentionality be reflected in our missional activity?

To Go Out…

Perhaps the Master now urges OMF to ‘go out quickly’ to people with disabilities, who have recently been recognised as an unreached people group, since they largely have few opportunities to hear the gospel due to barriers of logistics and attitudes in the Church.

OMF, through local Asian churches, must move towards these precious people, gently asking questions as Jesus did: ‘how long has he been like this?’(Mark 9.21) or ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10.51) to respectfully understand their experiences.

And Bring In…

Proclaiming the good news of Jesus over these individuals and families can too often be shaped by a sense of superiority. We (the strong and able?) supply the physical, medical, material, emotional needs, so often neglected by society. This kind of ministry only maintains existing boundaries.

The Master has commanded us to ‘bring in’ people from disabled communities to join us at his feast.

For people living with a disability, the good news of Jesus brings an invitation of real fellowship with Jesus and with his people. Attitudes that devalue disabled people are transformed through the gospel which restores true humanity in Christ. Now, through his Body everyone is welcomed, valued, and empowered.

We seek not only to minister to these people, but alongside them, enabling these men, women, boys and girls to minister God’s grace to us. In this way, those who once ‘seemed to be weak’, and were excluded are now regarded as ‘indispensable’ to the whole Body (1 Corinthians 12.22-23).

So That…

We ‘go out’ to places and people we have neglected and ‘bring in’ individuals and families to sit alongside us as equals at the Great Banquet. Why? So that the Master’s house is full, people with disabilities are restored in body, mind, soul and spirit and so that they come to know and glorify the Lord.

How do we proclaim the fullness of the gospel for people with disabilities? Through intentionally shaping Christian communities that embody God’s heart for all people. The Church’s prophetic challenge in the world is enabled by a counter-cultural, demonstration of true humanity and community, feasting around the table of God’s goodness in his diverse and very full house.

Donna Jennings
Donna has worked with her husband as OMF UK Area Representatives for Ireland since 2011. She previously worked in Bangladesh with SIM, which formed the context for her Masters in Missiology. Married to Nathaniel, they have two children and live in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

About the artwork
Luke 14 Banquet,  by Hyatt Moore, www., Reproduced courtesy Joni and Friends.
Watch a time-lapse video of the painting process:

1 -27-november.
2  Paul Chaney, “Comparative Analysis of Civil Society and State Discourse on Disabled People’s Rights and Welfare in Southeast Asia 2010 –16,”Asian Studies Review 41, no. 3 (June 2017): 406-423, /10.1080/10357823.2017.1336612 
(accessed 24 October 2017).

This article originally appeared in our Billions magazine September – December 2018 edition.

Will you pray for community ministries?

  • Pray for OMF workers in various countries who are engaged with this issue: from those actively helping governments to develop better laws and policies, to those who are working on the ground to help people with disabilities gain access to decent work, rehabilitation services and sustainable lifestyles.
  • Pray for churches to engage with the challenging theology of disability inclusion: that as the body of Christ we remain incomplete unless we are all included, each bringing our image-bearing selves, with our God-given gifts, to be active together in his body.
  • Pray for training materials, and courses to be developed and implemented in the region to help churches understand more how engage with this core issue.
  • Pray for more workers to come, not only to work with people with disabilities, but pray too that we would be able, as an organization, to embrace cross-cultural workers with disabilities as equal partners in his work.

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