She is blind, but she is teaching me to see.
It was my first long walk with a blind person. Her name is Cecilia. I was amazed by what she could “see.” She asked me what color the sky was, and I laughed. “How would you know what color it is?” Then she told me to describe the sky in terms of sound. Bright colors would be high-pitched sounds; dark colors were more bass-like.
She described the world around us as we walked. Sounds, smells, and things we touched developed new meaning for me that day. I was learning to see in ways I never had before. She was my teacher and I her student.
As we came to the end of our walk, Cecilia asked me a question I had not anticipated: “How can I become involved in some kind of ministry? What can I do?”
Often those with various physical limitations are treated with sympathy, and at times their rights have been defended. This, however, is not what Cecilia was asking.
Since becoming involved with special needs ministries,1 I have been more frequently asked “What can I do?” rather than “What can be done for me?” Inherently placed within the heart of each converted person is a desire to help others and to share the love of God with them in some meaningful way. Cecilia is among that group. She is from Romania, but speaks both Romanian and English. I asked if she would be willing to translate a book into her mother tongue. The book was written about ministry for those who are Deaf. She became excited and readily agreed.
That day I was reminded of a crucial truth: All are called to have a part in ministry, but too often they have been denied such opportunities when others fail to see or ignore the abilities the “disabled” have.
When Isaiah wrote that mountains would be leveled and valleys raised (see Isa. 40:3-5), he left no one out. If there are mountains of obstacles that prevent others from sharing, they need to be moved. John the Baptist took Isaiah’s prophecy to heart (see Luke 3:4-6). It wasn’t without resistance, but he responded to his calling by inviting others to remove “mountains” of obstacles that stood in the way of mission—God’s mission. He worked to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah by calling others to repent of perceptions, attitudes, and actions that were hindering the kingdom of God. What we often see as limitations, God views very differently. In fact, He often turns what we “see” as huge impossibilities into highways of possibilities.
For decades those who have not been able to see, hear, walk, or communicate in the same way as others have often been referred to as “the disabled.” While it is important to recognize one’s limitations, identifying someone as “disabled” emphasizes what that person cannot do rather than what can be done. Because of this, the General Conference special needs ministries is often referred to as “possibility ministries.” Limitations are not ignored, but neither are the possibilities.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 percent, or 1.1 billion, of the world’s population live with some form of disability.2 What kind of army would ever recruit from a population like that? God’s army!
When I was a young boy and the captain of a softball team, it seemed as if I sometimes got the “leftovers.” You know, the kind of players no one else wanted. These players, however, didn’t know they couldn’t play well—so why would we tell them that! What was important was that they were willing to learn. I worked with them, and they with me. We spoke words of encouragement to each other. We began to believe in possibilities, and in the end we became a winning team. Why? Because we believed in each other and played as a team.
Among the 1.1 billion people labeled as being disabled, there are possibilities that have never been discovered. No one is a “leftover.” God may send the very help the church needs, but it may come packaged in ways that are not expected.
Perhaps this is what Ellen White was referring to when she wrote, “All, whether entrusted with few or with many talents, are to blend together in unity. . . . We should have a word of encouragement to speak to all, remembering that there are a diversity of gifts.”3
A movement that combines compassion and possibility thinking is taking place. Has the “people-possibility movement” touched your home, your church, your office? Think possibility, not disability. Look for hidden talent and give it an opportunity to flourish. We are a “body,” and every part, every person, is needed (1 Cor. 12).
What “mountains” do you see that need to be moved? Let’s work together to move them!
Larry R. Evans, D.Min., is assistant to the president for special needs ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.