Hope and Healing

"We felt like we were expected…"

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On my last blog I spoke about the Abilities Church in Toronto. It bothered me that people with disabilities felt as if they had to begin their own church in order to feel welcomed. The day after posting that blog I heard a story of the Nairobi Marathon – and it connected some dots for me.

To make a long story short (and it is a great story) cbm is partnering with the Nairobi Marathon to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. Money raised by the Nairobi marathon go to programs to prevent blindness through cbm. The organizers wanted more actual participation by people with disabilities. In 2008 there were 15 participants in wheel chairs or tricycles (with hand pedals) and the goal was to get more.

cbm began by addressing registration issues – ensuring that the registrations were done in accessible places. We promoted the marathon through partners such as the Association of Persons with Disabilities in Kenya (APDK). Care was given to ensure technical support (fixing wheel chairs and tricycles), safety vehicles, medical assistance, and a staging tent for persons with disabilities.

What was the result of all this?  108 people in wheel chairs and tricycles entered the Nairobi marathon in 2009 – remember only 15 the year before. There were so many registrations from people with disabilities that they had to cut it off!

Following the marathon cbm asked participants with disabilities what they experienced and how we could make it even more accessible for the next year. One participant – who had entered in both years, made a powerful statement.

“We felt like this year we were expected…”

This comment was my “aha” moment.

To me the word “expected” is so much deeper than “accepted”. It was not about  accepting people with disabilities, it was preparing for and expecting that they participate. This demands a proactive effort – not passive. What a difference when you arrive somewhere and hear the words – “We expected you” rather than “We accept that you are here”.

I wonder at the difference if our churches “expected”  people with disabilities? Would people who are in the Abilities Church today have felt a need to start it?Unfortunately, from what I hear, many do not even feel accepted.