Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"I feel like I have been brought to repentance"

In my work with the Joni and Friends organization, I have been given wonderful opportunities to travel and teach about disability, ministry to and with persons with disabilities and the Bible and theology as it relates to disability. In most situations the folks are like the proverbial "deer in the headlights." They have lived their lives as Christians, attending church, perhaps attending Bible college or seminary. But, sadly, they have not heard the kinds of things we share.

This past Spring in Singapore, we were hosted by a wonderful pastor. Brilliant young man with a heart for those with disabilities, but no real training in the area. He described himself as a kindergartner when it came to these issues. He attended all the sessions, even doing some himself. He remarked that to him it now seems that most of the Bible is talking about perhaps disability, if not devaluation of persons. At the close of the conference, he said "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." He related that it was like he was doing something wrong but he didn't know he was. But now he understands and hence the desire to repent.

Later during the Summer, we spoke to leaders for World Vision's WASH program (a really wonderful program, look it up!) from 7 countries in Southern Africa. The leaders were pastors, WV country directors, state agency workers and folks with disabilities. We shared similar information to that that which we did in Singapore. When a time for feedback was provided to the leaders, one man, a wonderful, older pastor said, "I feel like I have been brought to repentance." The exact words we had heard in Singapore. He related many of the same observations as did others in the group that people related to the information in Singapore. Once again it was so exciting to be a part of this.

I have had similar experience to these in other places in the world. A powerful one was once in Ethiopia. I shared about how the church has excluded people. The translator translated, I then said "God forgive us!" She translated, then the 100 pastors and leaders in the audience boomed out "GOD FORGIVE US!"  It was an incredibly powerful moment.

I hope the same kinds of feelings are happening in the US. I have often said that the starting point for disability ministry is repentance. We begin by going to people and asking for forgiveness for how we have treated them, how we have excluded or segregated them. After that, we can ask if they will be involved in ministry with us.

Finally, I once spoke at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. It was a group of about a hundred folks. Wonderful people and a challenging time. In the midst of one presentation, I said,
"I really have no right to say this to you, but I would like to apologize to any of you who might have been excluded or not treated as you should have been because of disability. Please forgive us."
Immediately there was this woman who just started crying and weeping uncontrollably. Once she regained her composure a bit she said, "I have been waiting for this!  I have been waiting for this apology!"

A true Biblical understanding of people, particularly people who have been devalued even unintentionally, should bring us to repentance.


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