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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Serving those with Special Needs

Over the years, we have been involved with various ministries. Despite seeming differences in the profile or place where we serve, one thing has always remained constant: We look to aid those in need, to love, teach, train, empower, and equip those who, many times, do not have the ability or resources to help themselves.

Understanding the love that God has for us has given us the desire to show that to love others. It is what led us to serve orphans. It led us to open a community center to serve vulnerable families in the hopes of keeping their kids out of orphanages. And it is what led me, at the beginning of this year, to take over running a ministry serving people with disabilities.

The ministry was founded by a good friend, Jamie Waller, when he saw the need to improve the care for people with disabilities in Guatemala. What started as a simple project of hiring Christian caregivers to work inside an institution eventually became a “Dayhab” facility that provides care for children with PMLD (Profound Multiple Learning Disabilities).

Every day, 17 children come into our center to be loved and cared for by caregivers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and special educators. Some are in wheelchairs, many wear diapers, and almost none can talk. I am there two days a week and am responsible for managing the program, supervising the staff, and ensuring that we are doing the best we can to serve these children.

Why? You might ask, with all that I have on my plate—teaching vocational training programs in an orphanage, running our community center in the slums, and everything else that our ministry entails—would I choose to take on more work, specifically serving the disabled?

Ultimately, we find the answers not just in scripture, 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ constrains us,” but in examples laid out by the early church.

Compassion and kindness were not well-developed virtues among the pagan Romans. Mercy was discouraged. They saw it as helping those who were too weak to contribute to society and, therefore, a wasted effort. In the filthy, unsanitary hovels of the typical Roman city, with their miserable cycle of famines and plagues, the sick found no public institutions devoted to their care and little in the way of sympathy or help. Perhaps a family member would come to their aid, but oftentimes, even close relatives would leave their own to die.

In Rome, sick or elderly slaves were often left to waste away or exiled to an island. Unwanted children, especially disabled or “defective” newborns, were left to die of exposure. It became such a common practice; it was written into the Twelve Tables of Roman law that deformed infants should be killed, and it was common practice to drown children who were weak or abnormal.

This is one of the reasons why the sincere charity and compassion of the early Christians were so powerful. Central to Christian belief was the understanding that God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14a). They understood that the motivation for our service and charity was God’s self-giving love to us, reflected in His nature (1 John 4:8). God loved the human race enough to send Christ in human flesh, to die on a cross for our sins (John 3:16).

Understanding God’s love caused them to respond in kind by demonstrating their passion, not just to their fellow Christians, but to all humanity, which John 13: 34 and 35 tells us was created in God’s image. Their practical morality was a radical departure from the social norms of the day and laid the foundation for Christian philanthropy. Despite great danger, hardship, and persecution, the early church engaged in active ministry to those in need.

Even today, in our supposedly advanced culture, it can be easy to look at someone with a disability and assume that there is something “wrong” with them, that they are broken or need fixing. Yet the truth is that we, each and every one of us, are broken in some way. We must understand that there is more to a person than just their physical bodies; we are spirit and soul. Just because someone’s body does not seem to work correctly, does it in any way, shape, or form make them less of a person?

When we understand, from a holistic perspective, that all human beings bear God’s image, regardless of their physical or mental capacity, we see that the image of God cannot be compromised or lost in any way. We recognize that even the poorest functioning human being is a profound reflection of God’s image and worthy of our love.

That is what we are trying to accomplish in our Dayhab. Loving them as God has loved us. Our program has many challenges and difficulties. Working with them is difficult; many have been starved of love, care, and affection for much of their lives. Some have been abused or abandoned by their families. Others suffer the effects of long-term neglect, malnutrition, or institutionalization.

Yet each and every one of them is deserving of our love. Each of them deserves to be treated with dignity and respect as someone made in God’s image. When they are treated as people, they start to respond as people. Yes, it takes time to undo all the harm done to them in their lives. Yet, as we and our staff care for them, we see them change. We see them improve. We see them come out of their shell. We see them learn new skills and abilities, and, most wonderfully, we see them react to being loved.

For many, their physical condition may never change here on earth, yet through our ministry to their spirit, soul, and body, we are living out what it means to understand the love that God has for us by showing it to them.

1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

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