Disability in Mission – the Churches Hidden Treasure, Edited by David C Deuel and Nathan G John
“Should you be going back to the mission field, considering your condition?” This is the question often asked of me. I was diagnosed 6 years ago on the mission field with Parkinson’s Disease at the premature age of 37. So when I found this book, I’d already been exploring its themes. But new insights came page by page through the wisdom and experience of the writers.
The point of the book is illustrated by the true story of a deacon, in the early church, burned to death because of his actions.
“Lawrence …. was ordered to bring the treasures of the church before the emperor. He collected all the poor, the sick, the lame, the elderly and disabled people he could find. Took them to the emperor and said ‘See, here are the treasures of the Church’.
The book links Biblical examples of weakness and treasure. God gives Paul strength to shine in darkness to display the face of Christ. Likewise, God says, “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in dark places, so that you may know that I am the LORD” (Isa 45). Paul celebrates his weakness and fragility, and the stories of the book reveal how God is glorified in the weaknesses of other humble servants.
Joni Ereckson Tada, who writes the forward, knows firsthand the ministry God brought to her because of her quadriplegia. Not easy but fruitful. The previously untold stories in the book reflect that ‘the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable’ (1 Cor 12:22). Sadly, we don’t often value every part of the body of Christ. As Nathan Johns writes:
“Often society assumes the worst about people with disabilities. They are considered as weak. Yet each of the powerful testimonies here affirms how God chooses weak people, equips them powerfully by his grace, and works through them” (and) “creatively beyond what we could imagine”.
We are all made in God’s image, each of us is loved by God and is used for his purpose.
Without giving away all the stories nor Bible references, I liked the story of a down syndrome child born to missionaries in Indonesia. In this society, and many others, they believe that a disability is the result of a curse, generational sin, or divine judgement. This child became an example of hope. They saw how this child with downs was loved and encouraged to reach her full potential, and it gave local mothers hope for their children who were different. The position of the child’s mother changed as her suffering meant “Indonesians now perceived me as being more approachable….shared weakness was like a bridge”. The book tells of people watching disabled persons or their carers and getting new perspectives on their own situation. Even being present and united in weakness can encourage others and challenge the status quo. Others’ lives have changed completely like the editor Nathan John’s, whose daughter’s disability, inspired him to coordinate community disability services all over India.
Many disabled people serve God by teaching and preaching, others vocationally and others as disability advocates. Seeing a person worshipping God in spite of their problems shows their love for God, and people start to ask questions like: “If God can give joy to the quadriplegic then I want to know more” (of Joni Erekcon Tada). Many know that life is easier in the west and think ‘yet they are here serving my people’. This speaks volumes.
God used beatings, stonings, shipwrecks and imprisonment and a thorn in Paul’s side to keep him humble and dependent on him. All in missions need to depend on God whatever the situation.
On a practical side, when disability is present we need to evaluate carefully on a case by case basis the access to needed support services, regarding health or emotional services and practicalities. Extra costs don’t need to prevent service, but prayer is needed. My mission has evaluated my situation and approved me for service. So I’m excited to be back in Peru and love reaching out to people I’d never have thought to serve.
My disease has given me a chance to speak in many meetings and churches and my videos that tell my story have been seen by thousands of people, many who say ‘you are inspiring’.
I’m just following God’s call and I’m blown away as I see how God turns weakness to his strength. It’s not easy but I hope others inspired by the book will serve God, disabled or not. I loved the book and highly recommend it to anyone even if you don’t know disabled people. I pray it touches you as it did me.
Christine Jeyachandran serves with her husband David and kids in Peru with student and women’s ministry and more recently with people with Parkinson’s Disease. Here video Handstand for Parkinson’s was a finalist for the World Parkinson’s Congress video competition: