“According to the World Health Survey around 785 million (15.6%) persons 15 years and older live with a disability, while the Global Burden of Disease estimates a figure of around 975 million (19.4%) persons. Of these, the World Health Survey estimates that 110 million people (2.2%) have very significant difficulties in functioning, while the Global Burden of Disease estimates that 190 million (3.8%) have “severe disability” – the equivalent of disability inferred for conditions such as quadriplegia, severe depression, or blindness. …. The number of people with disabilities is growing.” (World Health Organisation’s World Report on Disability 2011)
The majority of the rest of the world seems ill-equipped to successfully interact with those who are disabled. While the restricted ones may be at ease with their disability, the able-bodied amongst us often seem uncomfortable in their presence. Why is this?
We want to believe that most able-bodied people are keen to reach out and connect with the differently-abled, and are provided the opportunity to overcome fear of the unknown and lack of knowledge concerning disabilities. We are the church. We want to embrace the disabled the same way Jesus did. We want those in our communities who are physically challenged to feel welcome and understood in our midst. We want those with mental impairments to feel loved. This is a challenging yet realistic goal. To be able to reach this goal, we should allow the experts on disability, persons with disabilities themselves, to educate us.
Toni Mould has been a member of Shofar Stellenbosch for the past 13 years. For 33 years she has lived with Cerebral Palsy due to an unnecessary brain injury sustained at birth. Her intellect is not affected. But her body is significantly affected in the areas of speech, movement and balance. She accomplishes an extraordinary life for someone with her level of physical disability. She lives unaccompanied, works a half-day job, cycles for the SA para-cycling team and operates generally independently. Toni has possibly experienced every joy and each stumbling block an actively involved church member, who happens to be disabled, could experience.
Christelle Myburgh is an able-bodied employee at Shofar Church and is a close friend to Toni. Being Toni’s friend, she often also serves as Toni’s assistant. During the past four years she has gained some firsthand experience as to the greatest difficulties that Toni faces as a disabled, active church member.
Together, they have compiled the following helpful guidelines to becoming a church in which the disabled will feel welcome and better understood.
People who are physically disabled are not necessarily mentally disabled
Do not assume that someone with a speech impediment or disabled body is mentally disabled. Assumption can lead to great error! Take time to determine whether the person is mentally cognitive. It is trying and painful for an intelligent person to be treated as if they are ignorant. Toni obtained a BA Degree in Social Work at the University of Stellenbosch. She received the Rectors Award for Succeeding Against the Odds, co-founded (together with her colleague, Candace Vermaak) an NPO called Bridging Abilities, and manages it with Candace. She is also developing as an author. Even though Toni is exceptionally bright, she is often treated as if she has no understanding at all.
Slow down, be patient!
Disabled people will naturally maintain a slower pace, since speech and/or movement is restricted. We owe it to them to slow down. Their contribution is as valuable as anybody else’s, if not of more value since most life-lessons are learned through suffering. They often possess experience in a field of expertise, or a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to be shared. To hurry on impatiently will be your own loss entirely. Do not finish their sentences for them; allow them to communicate in their own way and listen well. Plan more time for events and outings in order for the disabled person to come along and share in the joy.
Relax and learn
Step out of your comfort zone, approach disabled people, and relax around them. Allow your children to ask them about their disability (with their permission). If you do not understand their dialogue, ask them to repeat themselves. If you still do not understand, apologise politely and ask if there is a possible interpreter, or even to send you a WhatsApp/email if you really can’t understand (But then do reply to show that you have received or now understand!). Remain friendly and do not avoid them. Be real and honest. They’d rather have you figure out how to interact with them than avoiding (rejecting) them on account of your own discomfort. Like all of us they have a great need to engage and belong.
Helping without hurting
It happens from time to time that Toni falls. Well-meaning people then hastily and haphazardly pull her up by the arms, sometimes two or three people simultaneously. Toni obtains worse injuries from the “rescue operation” than the fall in the first place. There are specific ways in which one should assist people with disabilities when they fall or need assistance. Stay calm and ask the person, or the person’s friend or assistant, how to help. If this is not a possibility, then ask a nurse/occupational therapist/knowledgeable person who might be nearby. If all else fails, work calmly and carefully to avoid further injury. Avoid touching or playing with assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches or guide dogs. They are there to help the person, not objects of amusement.
Be careful what you pray for
Never assume that people with disabilities inevitably desire prayer for “healing”. They are not “sick”, they are disabled or differently-abled. Like the rest of us they are on a unique and personal journey with God. Like the rest of us, the choice to respond to an altar call or come out for prayer is theirs completely. Unless there is a very real prompting from the Holy Spirit to pray (with utter humility) for such a person’s area of disability, it is respectful to allow them to feel safe in our midst, just as they are. Jesus did not always assume, He asked about the needs of those who approached Him (Mark 10:51).
People with disabilities are not objects of shame/pity or ‘heroes’
Previously, people with disabilities were seen as people to be pitied or shamed. Many people have said ‘Ag shame’ in response to seeing or interacting with a person with a disability. But the reverse has also been true: when a person with a disability has been exemplified in the role of ‘an inspiration’ or ‘hero’. While the former disarms and further disables the person, the latter puts further pressure and responsibility on a life that is already difficult. Unless you have a personal relationship, or know the person or his/her life, refrain from using the person as an example in a speech or sermon.
Allow people with disabilities to serve in the church
Just like anyone else, the person with a disability has strengths and talents. Give everyone, including people with disabilities, a chance to serve in the house of God. It aids in their sense of belonging and allows everyone to feel part of the family. It may require a discussion with the person with a disability as to what they are able to do or want to get involved in, but don’t assume or prescribe to them what they may or may not be able to do. Have that talk and allow everyone to bring their service to God.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks about different spiritual gifts and different parts of the body fulfilling different roles, but each one needing the other for the body to be whole. So it is with us in the body of Christ. Let’s take the time to acknowledge one another – our gifts, our abilities, and our limitations – and together fulfill the call of Christ.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
by Tosca Ferndale
Volunteer Coordinator, Shofar Stellenbosch
February was Activate Month – a month in which our churches presented the various opportunities for congregation members to get involved in ministries and services. As we come to the end of the month, we asked Tosca to share about why we serve in church.
All who desire to serve God share the need to lay everything they have at the altar to one day hear these words: “Well done my good and faithful servant”. However, we can so easily get caught up in the Father’s affirmation that we forget to bask in the Father’s acceptance.
I have always been someone who has had a desire to serve. When I got saved, I found complete satisfaction in channelling all of my serving energy towards the Lord. However, for a long time I served as a slave. I lived in fear that the Lord would return and I would be found to be wicked and unfaithful; to be the servant who squandered the gifts the Lord had given them. I thus threw my gifts frantically and fearfully at the altar. Running and running and running – hoping to just make it over the finish line and receive my eternal reward of being called a good and faithful servant.
However, this is not the reward. Jesus is our eternal and everlasting reward. Communion with the Father through Jesus Christ is the gift we received when we became sons and daughters. I realised this one morning when I was crying in my car, waiting for intercession to start. As I was breaking down before the Lord, I shared my heart concerning serving with Him for what felt like the first time. I was burnt out, I was run down. I feared disappointing Him. I felt like an instrument that was only valued for what function it could fulfil in the Kingdom. A function I needed to prove, lest I be discarded. It was in this moment that the Lord started walking a road of sonship with me. (As a side note, please remember that both sons and daughters are included under the term ‘sonship’.) The Lord started showing me how I am first a daughter in His house, and as an expression of this sonship, of this acceptance, I serve.
Sons vs. Slaves
The matter of sonship is one that resonates so deeply with the modern Christian. With so many options of where to serve and things to do, it is often hard to sift through the noise and understand that you must first BE. We are inclined to DO to gain the necessary acceptance and/or membership into the house. In addition, we often fear that if we do not serve, we will be discarded – be found unworthy of Him. When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples in Matthew 10, we see that He first called the twelve disciples to Him. Thereafter He gave them authority and then instruction on how to go out. He calls us first to be with Him before He charges us to do anything.
In Romans 8: 14-16 we read, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”. The Spirit bearing witness to our identity as children of God was never on condition that we serve. On the contrary, we serve as an expression of our sonship. We serve because we are sons/daughters, not to become sons/daughters. We are free from our bondage to slavery and fear.
I often use the example of a natural family to illustrate this point. You assume responsibility of your natural house because you are a son/daughter in the house. You wash dishes, clean your room, lend a hand when guests are over, run errands for your mother or father. You take ownership of your home because it is just that, YOURS.
The same goes for the house of God. Once you have become a son/daughter, you take ownership of your home and serving naturally flows from this place. You will put your hand to the plough where you see fit. But if you are orphaned you will assume the position of a slave. You will be subject to the master, taking ownership only of that which you are commanded to do. Slaves do what they are paid/obliged to do. Their interest is in their wages/acceptance/reward. A son’s interest lies in the house and the will of their father.
A call to serve
That said, when you are planted in your identity as a son in the house, there remains a challenge to not serve out of performance, desiring acceptance. The need is indeed great and the labourers are indeed few. However, in understanding your position, you also need to understand your place in the house. We are the body and we cannot all do everything. The reality is that church often runs on a small percentage of volunteers whose hearts are to serve. We all know that one member who is on the worship team, makes coffee, intercedes, does the announcements, facilitates ministry and sets down after the service. Burnout is a reality many people have experienced and to avoid this we need to respond to the call to serve in prayerful obedience.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you are an ear – don’t try to be an arm. I often tell volunteers – don’t volunteer at Children’s Church if you dislike children. The Kingdom will come in that ministry without your disgruntled offering. What greater pleasure is there than to enquire from your Designer what He would have you do?
When considering where to serve, bring the decision to the Lord. Pray concerning where to put your hand to the plough.
Please note: if your district and therefore your Small Group is on ushering duty – you do not need to pray about whether you should usher or not. Some service is based on the fact that you are planted in your church, and you are necessary for that function to be fulfilled.
Not every good thing is a thing God is calling you to. The Lord doesn’t ask us simply to be good people, but to be obedient people. Thus, when considering taking on ministries in church, seek the Lord’s heart. Prayerfully consider where to serve and where to build. Then, being obedient to His Word and voice in your life, serve. Get in touch with someone at your church office who can point you in the right direction. Get some accountability around this area. Learn how to draw healthy boundaries in which you can freely serve the Lord.
This is wonderful. But remember that you are first a son/daughter in the house. Your acceptance is not dependent on your serving. On the contrary, your serving is an expression of your acceptance. Prayerfully consider each ministry and ask the Lord where He would have you serve in the coming season. Let us not see serving as a duty, but as alabaster boxes we break, willingly, at the Lord’s feet.
by Lieschen Venter
Student of Theology • Lecturer of Operations Research
As the sermon draws to its conclusion, the pastor’s final exhortation rings out: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” Some, perhaps those who have gained some experience, would nod wisely, but most hear only half-heartedly. How are we to accept, nay, rejoice, in a state which is in contradiction of our every survival instinct and sense of justice? Any person who has walked the earth for even a few years will testify: in this world there are many trials, sorrows and tribulations. The whole of creation groans and we groan along with it. Yet of all the creatures subject to the indiscrimination of suffering, humans are the only beings to ask of their pain, “why?” Why is there suffering? Why do we suffer? And most honestly, why do I suffer?
When Eve ate from the tree and shared its fruit with Adam, their eyes were opened. They immediately knew things they did not know before. They realised that they were naked and therefore felt vulnerable for the first time in their existence. They were newly confronted with a realisation of their own limitations as creatures, their shame, and with the idea of mortal death. Their eyes were opened to self-consciousness and with it came new contamination of dignity with pride.
Human dignity is a central consideration of Christian philosophy. It holds that dignity of the human person is rooted in his or her creation in the image and likeness of God. This dignity is expressed in human agency and free will with the further understanding that free will in turn springs from human creation in the image of God.
In February of 2015, advocate Robin Stransham-Ford was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At 65 years of age, and at the culmination of a seemingly successful life, he applied to the Pretoria High Court for the right to end this life by euthanasia or assisted suicide. Any other death, he argued, would rob him of his constitutional right to dignity. In April of that year the court ruled in favour of the application, but Stransham-Ford was overcome by his illness two hours before the order was granted. Since then, the Supreme Court has overturned the decision, making euthanasia and assisted suicide an illegal practice in South Africa.
How do we make sense of an existence fraught with suffering? We turn to our highest legal authority, our Constitution, and find it holds before us both the right to dignity and the right to live. How do we rank these rights in cases where they appear to be contradictory?
Euthanasia (or mercy killing) is the act of putting to death or allowing to die, by withholding extreme medical measures, a person suffering from an incurable, and especially painful, disease or condition. A related concept is that of assisted suicide, where the suffering person performs the killing act himself, with only a measure of assistance from another person. Even as we look at the definition we might be surprised to find how logical a solution this appears to be.
Our culture is unhealthily comfortable with the idea of death. Worldviews based increasingly on the philosophies of Darwinism, secularism and our desensitisation, cause us to barely notice when we see a character on-screen often violently murdered. We forget that one or two generations ago, only those in military or emergency medical services were exposed to this level of violence. And our indifference leads us to consider death as just another option in our autonomous life management system. Death becomes for us a tool with which we attempt to uphold what we believe is our dignity.
But what is a Biblical worldview of death? The cultural view is a total reversal of the Biblical model. From God’s Word we learn that death entered into the world as a curse (Genesis 3:19) where it continues as an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Life is a sacred gift from God (Genesis 2:7) and when given the choice between life and death, God told Israel to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). Euthanasia rejects the gift and embraces the curse; it forfeits what is good and replaces it with what is not.
And what is Christ’s view of dignity? God, Creator, omnipotent and forever, incarnates into this world and partakes in our suffering. Paul tells the Philippians, “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). Our God does not stand in the distance expecting us to endure the impossible, but instead enters into this broken world to redefine everything we thought the human ideal to be. Bleeding and naked, He finds resolution in the Father’s perfect will of the cross. Our dignity finds its fulfilment in our partaking of Christ in all His humility.
The Kingdom of God is our wonderful upside down Kingdom of redefined treasures. The last is first, the master is the servant, the poor are rich, and the solidarity in Christ’s suffering is our true dignity. Death can never be a means to an end. For a perfect Father rich in compassion, for a God who has entered into our suffering, for a Spirit present at every bedside, we find our dignity in humility as we submit to His will.
At the beginning of each academic year university towns are brimming with first year students, ready to make the most of their time on campus. It’s a time of adjustment – figuring out boundaries and enjoying new-found freedom. Which also makes it a potentially vulnerable time.
Two hundred and ninety students attended the First Years’ Camp in Stellenbosch this year, of which 160 were first years and the rest were student facilitators and crew.
There were many opportunities to build relationships and we still see daily how students who met on camp are seeking God together on campus, encouraging each other to run the race well!
Over a hundred first years either committed their lives to Jesus for the first time or committed to follow Him wholeheartedly. Many were baptised in the Holy Spirit and around 20 were baptised in water on the Sunday. Afterwards one of them told us, with tears in her eyes, how the camp had changed her life…
“Amplified First Years’ Camp literally changed my life. (This may sound like a cliché, but it is the honest truth.) Amplified surpassed my wildest dreams. The camp created a platform for myself, and many others, to get to know our King better and to create a real relationship with Him. At the first years’ services I could connect to the Lord in an intimate way, and I was motivated to stay close to Him. At school I was used to make things happen on my own, and I relied only on myself. From the day when I decided to surrender to Him totally I’ve seen so many miracles in my life! My fear of man is gone, I found place in a residence and I am free from my sins. The platform that Shofar created to connect to the Lord changed my life radically and I am SO unbelievably grateful for that.” Kyla Orton
To find out more about Amplified, visit the website.
In our Ask the Pastor series we ask questions about being Christians, church members and family. Sias le Roux from Shofar Stellenbosch and André Kruger from Shofar East London answer, “I can only do one extra church ‘thing’ apart from Sunday services and small group. What should I choose?”