More than two millennia have passed since Jesus gave his mandate, ‘Go out quickly . . . and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame’ (Luke 14:21b). After many years of tilling difficult ground, and with early bunches of sweet fruit in our hands, the season of harvest is upon us. Never before have cultural, governmental, and spiritual opportunities come together in such a dynamic way for the evangelism, discipleship, and inclusion of persons with disabilities worldwide. Barriers are tumbling down and people with disabilities are rising to higher roles of influence in societies around the world.
Yet darkness still pervades over many of the 1 billion people affected by disability, 80% of whom live in less-developed nations. What is more, people with disabilities are still underrepresented in the church, particularly in leadership roles for local churches and Christian organizations. Our commitment is clear:
We encourage church and mission leaders to think not only of mission among those with a disability, but to recognize, affirm and facilitate the missional calling of believers with disabilities themselves as part of the Body of Christ. The Cape Town Commitment II-B-4
Ministry among disabled persons is fundamentally ministry to people. People with disabilities are businessmen, professionals, and pastors; they struggle and need counsel, many are children at risk; sadly, they too can be unjust. People with disabilities need the gospel. Neglecting to evangelize these individuals means neglecting 1/7 of the global population.
The disability population is impacted annually by radio, television, and publishing. In 2013, Joni and Friends worked with in-country partners to offer ‘Beyond Suffering’, a curriculum designed to address key biblical issues for Christians committed to ministry to disabled persons in Ghana, Peru, China, El Salvador, Romania, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic. We are also developing curriculum for international Bible colleges and seminaries, as well as mobilizing short-term teams to compassionately present the gospel through mercy ministries.
We are implementing church-centered strategies of disability ministry in 23 countries. Local churches are being educated and are developing local community-based Christ centered services which have ongoing impact among special needs families. With the international community recognizing the societal needs, we are helping to create public policy and advocacy to address areas of neglect. We are organizing ecclecentric networks of disability-related community resources and institutions, all for the purpose of bringing a practical application of the gospel of Christ to the global disability community.
Finally, we are developing strategies that will open the door for persons with disabilities to participate, even lead in local church ministries, so that they too can heed God’s missional calling and use the spiritual giftedness God has given them for the church and his mission.