The dirt floor crunched below my feet as I walked up to greet a man in a colorful shirt with a warm smile. “I’m Donald,” he said as he extended his hand, “not Donald Duck, just Donald,” he chuckled. I returned his greeting and tried to show off my few token Swahili words, and we laughed, forgetting for a moment the sweltering heat that seems to keep even the mosquitoes from making an appearance. Donald and I are on the coast of Kenya, attending a meeting of pastors and community members who have started disability support groups for parents. These leaders are convinced that the church in Kenya has neglected to obey the mandate of Luke 14:21 to “go quickly into the highways and alleys and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
Donald is just one of many pastors here in Kenya who I’ve met and heard talk about their conviction to love people with disabilities. In Kenya, half of households make less than $100 a month. Though the life expectancy in Kenya is at an all-time high of 67 years, it is still a decade shorter than in the U.S. Sixty-one percent of the urban population lives in overcrowded one room homes. And yet, none of these excuses – all of which would seem like very reasonable barriers to spending precious time and resources to reach out to people with disabilities – have kept Donald and his fellow pastors from obeying the Luke 14 mandate.
Action Planning with Invisible Resources
At the end of a one-day workshop run by Kupenda for the Children, pastors were asked to create action plans describing what they would do after hearing what God says in the Bible about disability. Sitting in the back of this one-room church, it could be so easy to focus on what’s lacking: there is no ramp, no sensory room, no braille printer. But none of what’s lacking is mentioned as each small group of pastors stands up to present their plan.
The ambitious plans of these pastors from rural Kenya nearly make me blush with shame, as I recall the many excuses I’ve made for myself and others. The pastors’ plans include advocating with local leaders to create and implement policies to protect children with disabilities. They’re going to train teachers at local schools on inclusion techniques. They also plan to mobilize their churches to literally go out into the streets and find people with disabilities who are often hidden away from the public eye because of stigma and discrimination in countries like Kenya.
These pastors don’t see all the resources that are lacking. They see their own bodies, their own energies, and have made plans to do more with the resources within themselves than many of us do with the luxuries of our developed context.
Doing Much with Little
God has a history of doing a lot with our little. The Macedonian Christians were commended for their generosity despite their extreme poverty in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4:
“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.”
Even when resources are in short supply, the grace of God is able to stir up wells of generosity in the lives of Christians. In America, it’s easy to look at disability ministry and think, “My church doesn’t have enough resources to do that.” And maybe your church doesn’t have the monetary resources to build a separate building for disability ministry or hire a sign language interpreter for every service, but there’s a pastor in Kenya who believes that your external resources don’t determine whether or not you can invite people with disabilities to “the banquet.” If a church in rural Kenya that has no flooring, window panes or a real door can do something, every church can do something.
Maybe you’ll start by training your greeters on disability etiquette, or putting together fidget bags to place at the entrance to your sanctuary. Maybe your small group will share a meal with residents of a group home, or maybe you’ll commit to preach a sermon about the Theology of Disability every year. Whatever it is, don’t let your lack limit you; let God’s grace inspire you.
Amberle Brown helps lead an organization called The Banquet Network, based in Baltimore, MD. Amberle also works full-time for World Relief, an international health and development NGO. The Banquet Network primarily works with church plants to inspire, equip, and resource them to reach people with disabilities who are on the margins of their communities. Amberle is passionate about helping churches include and reach people with disabilities, based on her own experience of becoming visually impaired and her encounters with people with disabilities in developing countries.