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What children with disabilities taught us...

Healing of a paralysed man (Luk 5:17-26) - by Daniel Meyer

The first thing Jesus did was to forgive the paralysed man's sins. He didn't pay attention to the physical handicap – unlike us, who would first notice the person's physical limitations. He saw what was most important and he knew where healing was needed most. Meditating on this passage, I suddenly realized that there are actually three types of disabilities: physical, mental and also spiritual. To be handicapped means that one is hindered from doing something that one wants to do. For example, a handicapped child wants to pick up a toy, but drops it on the floor because he cannot control this movement. Likewise, we are spiritually handicapped. We want to follow Jesus, but despite striving to follow His example we keep sinning again and again. Jesus pays special attention to this “spiritual handicap”. The physical handicap is of lesser importance to Him.
Looking at this passage I came to the following conclusions:

  • God can and wants to have a relationship with all people, including people with (severe) disabilities. There are no limitations in these relationships, even if the communication between the severely disabled person and another person is very limited.
  • What do we focus on? Do we only pay attention to the external appearance of a person or do we notice the most important thing: the heart that is in need of healing?
  • When caring for children with disabilities by providing equipment, therapy and prayer, we should not be discouraged when we cannot see physical healing. God has different priorities and His healing often takes place in the most important area - the heart. God can heal all three handicaps; He is omnipotent. And of course I, like the friends of the paralysed man, would like to see physical healing. But my focus has shifted now. Praise the Lord that one day, all the children of God can live together in heaven without the limitations of spiritual, physical and mental disability!

God's unconditional love - by Daniel Meyer

We have now become aware that we all have disabilities (if not, please read the preceding paragraphs). Now how do a mother and father relate to their child with a disability? In the townships it is mostly the mothers taking care of the children. Therefore it makes sense to compare the relationship between a mother and her disabled child to the relationship between God and us, His children.

  • The relationship between a mother and her child with a disability:

I admire the love and patience that I can see in many of the mothers we are working with. Their love is not conditional on the progress of the child. The child cannot and does not need to earn their love. Progress in the child is often hardly noticeable from a human perspective and deterioration might in fact be more realistic than progress. Yet the mothers do not give up hope. And even when their hope is disappointed they do not lose confidence and stay patient. In hope they deal with problems and difficulties and try to help the child. Often the mothers give up their relationships with other people in order to care for their child and they are often disregarded or avoided by other people of the community because of their child. At our camp, some mothers shared that this was the first time they left the township since their child was born. These mothers give up their lives for their children. And yet it is important to also mention that the child gives the mother a lot of joy. Not because of what he does, but as a person, just because of who he is. The child, on the other hand, lives in total dependancy upon the mother and trusts her completely. The child cannot earn the love of the mother. It just receives it.

  • Our relationship with God:

The situation with God and us is very similar - and yet different, because God is perfect. He gave Himself up for us to the utmost in that He became one of us and died in our place. He loves us with a perfect love that is not dependant on our progress. Like the child with a disability, we often do not make much progress, sometimes rather fall back. In spite of that God always hopes the best and does not give up on us. He is with us and for us also in the most difficult circumstances and He grieves with us when we stumble. The mother of a child with a disability cannot love her child perfectly and will not always act in love. But God's love is much greater and perfect in itself. Therefore we have all the more reason to learn from a disabled child by living in total dependancy upon God and trusting Him completely. And we can also know that God rejoices over us. Not because of what we do, but just because of who we are – His children. Halleluja!

Taking time - by Daniel Meyer

I am someone who likes to work and live fast and efficiently. To work with disabled children in Africa is the opposite thereof. I often still make mistakes in this regard. When planning our camp, we drew up a rough timetable allowing for much flexibility, because we knew that everything will take more time and we did not want to tire the people with an overly busy program. Even so, our timetable was not appropriate - everything took a hundred times longer than anticipated! Children with disabilities just need lots of time. Feeding for example can take 1-2 hours...
One could of course try to do things faster. But this stresses the child and makes his stiffness worse and then things just become even more difficult. When the child is stressed he shows it with his whole body and you can clearly see how your behaviour affects the child. You can either treat him with love and much patience, or in a hurry, unwilling to really take time for him. I think we can learn something from the children in this regard as well. Like them, we all have the basic need to be wholeheartedly loved and cared for with patience, time, interest and joy. That is also what I want God to do for me, and I know that He is providing that every day, always.

Life as worship - by Daniel Meyer

It is a challenge to work with children with disabilities. The question “why?” often arises. At the same time you realize how privileged you are. I am not (physically or mentally) disabled and therefore have much reason for thanksgiving and praise. God's work is pefect. When then do we stop questioning this and start to ask why God made someone in a certain way instead? - (A question that most of us probably ask when we encounter a severely disabled person.) Can we say that Psalm 139 and especially verse 14 is true for all people?

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”

I believe that this Psalm is true for every person. Although God did not plan man to be disabled (physically, mentally or spiritually), it does not change the fact that God's creation is wonderful. As God's children we can, despite our disabilities, worship and praise Him through our lives and give Him joy. I even believe that God has chosen some disabled children not despite, but because of their disability to be special witnesses for Him and a light to the world. One of the mothers who attended our camp made a decision there to follow Jesus. Her child was used to lead that mother to Jesus. And this is surely not the only instance where a disabled child has been used to bring someone to the Lord. A disabled child can definitely be a witness for Jesus.

The more I work with children with disabilities and also pray for them, the more I experience joy when I am with them. I really see the simple, but true joy that they radiate. Through God's grace I can grasp how He sees these children. What joy and love He has for them! So we can wholeheartedly pray Ps 139 for every child with a disability:

"O Lord you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me... Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say 'Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night', even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you? For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!? I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end? —I am still with you." (Psalm 139:1-18 The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version)

13th of May 2009 - by Daniel Meyer

This was probably my saddest birthday. Early that morning Nkosinati, one of the children we work with, passed away. The whole day I was asking questions and feeling sad. I realised how attached I have become to Nkosinati. Yet I was glad that Nkosinati and his mother, Nombuso, had been part of our camp three weeks earlier. When we had taken them home after the camp, we were touched by how much the two of them had been missed by the rest of the family. Everybody was so happy that Nkosinati was home. He was really much loved. Nkosinati's funeral was on the 15th of May. We were amazed at how many people came to Nkosinati's house, where the funeral was held. The mother and family was extremely sad. As we passed the coffin we could see this beautiful child one last time. We were comforted to see him looking so peaceful and relaxed. He was only 2 years and a few months old. I am so glad that I could get to know him and his mother. Nkosinati was severely disabled and could not do anything by himself. When one would have asked a stranger what he saw in Nkosinati, he would probably have given a very negative reply. But those who knew him, espescially his mother, loved him the way he was.
I had the opportunity to say something at the funeral. Ever since Nkosinati's death I have Psalm 126 on my mind:

"When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves." (Ps. 126 New Revised Standard Version)

For the slaves in America, this Psalm was a great encouragement. Nkosinati was also a slave of his disability. Now he is set free from his body and can be with Jesus, in freedom. I do not have any proof that Nkosinati is in heaven, but I am 100% convinced of that. It is wonderful that Nkosinati had a loving mother despite his disability. God entrusted him to her for two years. She accepted this gift with thankfulness and cared for him as best she could. I believe God is pleased with this labour of love. It was true worship.
So the 13th of May was a sad day because a wonderful person had left us, but also a joyous day as it is written in verse 2. With thanksgiving I can pray:

“I praise you that Nkosinati was fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well....In your book were written all the days that were formed for him when none of them as yet existed” (Ps 139:14,16)

God took Nkosinati home. His task here on earth had been completed. For me it held special meaning that Nkosinati died on my birthday: He had left us, but on 13 May 2009 he was born into a new life, a life without slavery or disability, for ever. Thus we share our “birthday”. I was born on 13 May into my first life and Nkosinati into his second life. When will my second birthday be? It can be tomorrow or in 3 years or in 50 years. Am I ready?
Working with severely disabled children makes me realize that we focus to much on this life, and do not think about death and the new life, especially when we are young and healthy. But actually we should, as the most important is yet to come!