Around the world, a billion people have some form of physical or cognitive disability. Almost 200 million individuals experience significant disabilities. With disabilities often comes discrimination and stigma, not to mention extremely limited opportunities. Entire families can experience loneliness as well as increased poverty, particularly in countries without support services. Recognizing these needs, Nazarene congregations are reminding individuals with disabilities, and their families, of God’s love for them.
A new special needs sponsorship through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries’ child sponsorship program is aimed at serving both children and adults with disabilities. Currently, sponsorships are available to sup- port individuals with disabilities in Ukraine, Chile, and Peru.
When Ira and her mother, Valentina, first came to the five-day camp run by volunteers from a Nazarene church, they hadn’t packed any clothes. Based on past experiences with strangers, they fully expected to go home the same day.
Ira uses a wheelchair and has trouble communicating her thoughts. She was used to being ridiculed by her peers and had no reason to expect anything different this time. But after the first day of the camp, Valentina asked her husband to bring them clothes because Ira had decided to stay.
In Ukraine, where Ira lives, those who live with disabilities are highly stigmatized and often go without the care they need. Church-led ministries are stepping in to provide care and to say to those with disabilities, “You are valued and loved.” Along with the summer camp Ira attended, a group of volunteers affiliated with the church of the Nazarene run a Kids’ Club in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, where children and young adults with disabilities come to experience community and Christ.
Volunteers also help make sure families are supported through home visits and help accessing medication and groceries.
In Chile, the Mirada de Amor center creates a space for adults with disabilities to work, learn, and experience community. In the country, government benefits end at age 26 and services are very expensive, so adults with disabilities don’t always have access to the care they need. Mirada de Amor provides therapy and specialists for young adults whose families don’t have the means to pay for those services.
Flavio (photo above), 34, has been attending Mirada de Amor for six years. His best friends also go there, and together they do job training, go kayaking, attend cooking workshops, and take part in physical recreation.
“I like being in Mirada de Amor because they help me to work better,” he says. “It is a place where I have friends, and they teach us that Jesus should be the one walking with us always.”
During the week, participants can join a holistic support program that includes Christian education, activities for daily living, cognitive stimulation, financial management, and sheltered employment. On the weekends, the ministry also serves children and youth with disabilities. All participants have access to vocational training and therapy.
With all of the workshops and activities that Mirada de Amor schedules, the needs of both the body and soul are met. As Flavio explained, he can learn about God there, and he’s encouraged to seek a deeper relationship with God, too.
In English, the phrase mirada de amor translates as “look of love.” It’s an appropriate name. Through the daily care and love provided through this ministry, the church is painting a picture of what Christ-like love looks like.
-- Reprinted with permission from NCM Magazine, Summer 2017 edition. To read current and past editions of the magazine, visit: www.ncm.org/magazine.html