She wept as she received the envelope of money from the hands of the official-but these were not tears of joy, but of frustration. “I know I’m disabled-but I have worked hard to show people that I can do it, I can do things. But now, they come and give me handouts, and everybody sees me as just a dependent person again.”
Anna’s story* illustrates a deep challenge at the heart of addressing inequalities and exclusion: that what is needed most is not charity, or a handout, but recognition and acceptance of equal belonging.
Disability results in huge socio-economic inequalities, where people with disabilities are more likely to be poor, have not had access to education, to be unemployed, and to have little or no access to crucial public services.
The Bible radically challenges our perceptions of disability: not only are we all created in the image of God, but that image bearing is not dependent on our physical form. In Christ, we are all part his body: and when some are not included as part of the body, it is incomplete.
This asks different questions about disability: not ‘how should we help this person?’ but ‘who is this person, and what do I need to change so that they can be included in society and in church?’. Structural inequalities arise not only from the effects of physical barriers, but also from attitudes and beliefs. In many countries, disability is perceived to be a consequence of bad deeds in a previous life, and, on the other hand, that giving charity to a person with disabilities is a meritorious deed. These attitudes also exist in the church, where people with disabilities are given charity, rather than fully included in the life of the church.
*names in this story have been changed.
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.