A formal disability ministry with fully inclusive programs and sensory accommodations is an ideal to which many churches aspire. But, disability ministry can happen anywhere, anytime – all it takes is a willing heart.
I recently met a woman named Theresa, who has embraced disability ministry in an unexpected place – a German refugee camp.
Theresa moved with her husband and children to Germany years before any refugees poured into the country. But God, in His providence, allowed a large refugee camp to be constructed only a few miles from their home. As we spoke, she shared about the opportunities God has given her to minister and witness to the many Muslim refugees who are living in the camp with varying disabilities from paralysis to PTSD. One story completely consumed me – the story of Tariq. If he were to share a snapshot of his life, perhaps he would tell us this…
I cannot rid myself of nagging fear, which follows me wherever I go. My apartment in Syria, a place of refuge for my family, was deliberately bombed… specifically targeted to kill me because I would not do what they wanted me to. As one of the walls of our apartment crashed down on my body, I heard a buzzing sound and I thought I was going to die. I can still hear bombs screaming through the air and the crash of crumbling buildings falling around me. Somehow, I freed myself… the rest is a blur.
Sometimes I feel like I am in a nightmare, but then I look down and realize this is my new reality… my legs lay paralyzed, listless, unusable, on a cot in a German refugee camp.
When our boat landed in Greece, I recall laying on the beach for at least three days before someone came to help me. The police gave me a wheelchair, and I made my way to Germany totally dependent on the help of strangers along the way.
I’m now here at a refugee camp, and I’ve noticed the kindness of strangers. Particularly, the family who has taken an interest in me. I have shared with them my dream to walk again, but because I do not have the correct papers I am unable to receive the medical treatment I need. This family has called various agencies and even reached out to organizations in the United States to see how they can help me. I have never experienced this type of kindness, especially when they know I am a Muslim and they are Christians.
There is a man in our camp from Afghanistan who is very afraid of dying. Like me, he believes that for each person, there is an angel on our right side and an angel on our left side that document our good and bad deeds. He is terrified that his bad deeds will outweigh the good, and he will be severely punished in the life to come. I overheard the Christian family listening to him and sharing their belief that Isa (they call him Jesus) is the Son of God, who by his death on the cross, rose from the dead and offers complete forgiveness of all haram (forbidden sins).
One of the Christians read to him from the Bible and explained how the record of our haram was nailed to the cross with Isa, and when Isa died, he satisfied the wrath of God so that if we believe and receive his forgiveness, we need no longer fear.
I could not help but overhear their words. I cannot understand such a loving God, or his followers who care for me so freely – a man without a home and without the use of his legs.
Theresa provides a beautiful example of embracing individuals affected by disability, sharing the gospel with them, and supporting them with practical help.
Regardless of where you live, look around to see who God has placed in your community. What can you do today to reach out to those in your cities who are hurting, disabled, and need the hope of Christ?
Crystal Keating serves with the Response Department at Joni and Friends, providing encouragement and practical resources for people affected by disability. She has advocated for true life in Christ to women with unwanted pregnancies, homeless families, and neglected children since 2000. She is also a graduate student, studying marriage and family counseling.