While working in Tanzania, Margaret Njuguna was transformed through witnessing a person crossing several lanes of traffic at a busy intersection. For others around her, this event was so commonplace that no one else took notice. But Margaret couldn't get the spectacle out of her mind even months and years later. The man crossing the road used his hands to hop across the road as cars whizzed past on either side. Would a car or truck smash him into the road as he slowly made his way across? The man made it safely to the other side, but Margaret decided that people with disabilities should not have to deal with that degree of trauma simply to go about their daily business.
After this event, Margaret's heart was especially sensitive toward the people with disabilities she met as she did her development work. Many of them were kept hidden away from the public eye. Some begged. Some risked their lives simply to get across the street. Finally, after working for World Renew in Tanzania for many years, Margaret Njuguna returned to her native Kenya to work full time on her heart's passion. She started the En-Gedi Children's Home for children with disabilities. (See her most recent prayer letter attached.)
En-Gedi now is at capacity with six children, but the needs continue. Margaret includes this clipping from a Kenyan newspaper in her prayer letter:
A disabled boy who was kept in a sheep pen for 10 years in Majengo, Narok County, has received a wheelchair and medical attention……The boy was receiving treatment for bed sores, malnutrition and rickets, and was responding very well, he added……At the weekend, the chairman led a team of volunteers and journalists to rescue the boy who had been tied and chained to his bed and locked up for 10 years in a small shack with livestock. The rescue operation shocked neighbors, many of whom appeared not to have known that there was such a child in the home…..
" . . . tied and chained to his bed and locked up for 10 years in a small shack with livestock . . . " I find it hard to imagine how the parents/guardians of this child could treat him with such disregard for his humanity; yet I want to be careful not to be too quick to judge. I don't know what his parents/guardians were facing themselves. I praise God that someone found him, rescued him, and have given him hope for a better future.
Though his neighbors did not even know about this boy's existence, someone did. Someone noticed and took action. Margaret noticed the challenges faced by people whom societies usually shove aside and took action by starting En-Gedi. In a country filled with children and adults with disabilities, Margaret could wonder whether her little home can make a difference. But for the six children living there now, she is making a huge difference. None will suffer the trauma of being treated like livestock. All will receive care and love, and will be encouraged to see the image of God within themselves. All will be encouraged to nurture the gifts and abilities that God has given to them. The children bless Margaret too. She says, "It’s amazing how much joy God has given me in these children. I love them, and they know it."
Here in North America, every one of us has people in our own neighborhoods who have disabilities. Though, I hope, none are chained in livestock pens, many of them face loneliness and isolation, not because they have nothing to offer but because no one cares to open up to a relationship with them. What are you going to do about it?
If you are feeling something right now, I hope that you are not feeling pity. Pity isolates and separates. Instead, I hope you are feeling anger that so many of our neighbors (one in four are affected by disability) feel isolated and lonely. I hope you are feeling anger AND love. Because love mixed with anger can motivate one to action. Just as Margaret needed to be intentional about ministering with children with disabilities in Kenya, each one of us needs to be intentional about ministry with people affected by disabilities.
Many people with disabilities have tried church and found that they were not welcome. Many parents of children with autism were asked not to return to churches they visited. Could that have been your church?
The fields are white for the harvest. Many people with disabilities and their caregivers go about their lives as best they can. All have gifts and talents and abilities to offer. Many feel left out by society and the church. What could you do to help your church become a more diverse community of people with and without disabilities?