Only in the European Union, 70 million people live with some kind of disability. Almost 6 in 10 people with some kind of disability are women. Churches should “get the issue onto the agenda”, says Thérèse Swinters, facilitator of the European Disability Network (EDN).
by Joel Forster
ARE CHURCHES THINKING ABOUT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
“In the more than 12 years that I have been the facilitator of EDN, my biggest problem has been to get the issue of disability spoken about – just getting it onto the agenda at all”, says Swinters. “This is especially the case in churches where people often think ‘we are all accepted by the Lord’ and conclude that there is no need to take any special action about disabled people”.
CHURCH LEADERS NEED TO GROW IN VISION
Why networks and ministries are offering training in this field? Because Christians “need a united effort to ensure that we think carefully and thoroughly about the issues of disability. Not because we want to separate these people as a specialist ‘care’ area, but to include them in the whole community as teachers, pastors, counselors and disciples, etc…” This inclusion is not an issue of “getting people in a wheelchair into the church”. There are other more difficult areas “such as including learning disabled and deaf people in our study programs”. “As Tony Phelps Jones of Prospects UK puts it, ‘the good news is that when a church works hard at being a better place for disabled people, it becomes a better place for everybody’”.
Church leaders with no disabilities still have much work to do to “understand” people who live with disabilities. “Churches do not so much have to ‘care, nurse, pay for wheelchairs, etc.’ but should take responsibility so that people living with a disability can participate in the Christian communities.” Real friendships with people who live with a disability turn into a chance to learn about “how to face suffering”, Swinters explains.
“CAN I HELP YOU? … HOW?”
But not only leaders need to grow in vision, but everyone else. There are good intentions, and “Christians are normally loving and caring, but very often they don’t know when and how to help”. And “people with a disability do not like to be patronised, and ‘well-intentioned actions’ are often misunderstood”.
A good start is always to think: ‘am I doing this to serve this person or just to feel good with myself?’ Initiatives need to come into place through relationships. “Every Christian should train themselves in taking contact with people with a disability”. One cannot help if he/she doesn’t know what is actually needed. “A person living with a disability always says: ‘Nothing about me, without me’”.
“A disabled person can very often decide for him/herself what he/she likes to do or how things should be done”. So, “the most important question in getting involved in disability is: ‘Can I help?’ Only after listening to the answer, then the next question can be: ‘How can I help?’” She underlines this: it is very important to “listen very careful to every detail of the answer”.
Sourse: EVANGELICAL FOCUS
More information? Read the second article: “Disability is only a small part of our identity”
For more information visit the EDN website