Ministry Outreach in the Flesh in the Dominican Republic (Christian views on disability)

June 15, 2010

One aspect of Elim’s purpose on this Outreach Trip is to actually pursue the Board-approved vision for Ministry Outreach: to share Elim’s expertise and message throughout the world.

Today’s excursions are all about Ministry Outreach, taking the expertise that Elim and its staff have cultivated, and sharing that here in the Dominican. Pam Connolly is Elim’s Coordinator of Supportive Educational Services and Sharon Duncan, who teaches at Purdue University, following a few years of teaching at Elim, is currently a consultant on curriculum and learning at Elim. We are further blessed to bring along Elim adult services case manager Trisha Stingel, a Trinity graduate with expertise in services for adults, and – of course – President Bill Lodewyk. Certainly, Elim has brought expertise to share. But this would be meaningless without our ministry partners: Luis and Barb Manon, who call Steger, Illinois their home, though their hearts are with the DR. I will share more about their vision in the days to come.

first stop today was at an orphanage outside Puerto Plata, where I witnessed Ministry Outreach come to life. Pam, Sharon, and Trisha jumped right in, working with and exercising most of the 21 children that lived in the special needs orphanage. Within an hour, the director identified a meaningful way for us to partner. In the short time we were there, Pam and Sharon were able to go through the entire roster and identify the needs and opportunities for each child. With these tools, the director believes they can equip future missions teams and staff to more effectively serve those in their care, equipping them, too, to respond to God’s call on their lives.

On the way back to the hotel, the team discussed the challenges of that environment, including the reasons for an orphanage for children with disabilities. While I can’t pinpoint who said what, a few items stood out for me from listening in to that conversation:

  1. People with disabilities are included in American society to a much greater degree than in past decades. This can be attributed in part to the overall civil rights movement in America.
  2. People with disabilities are too often looked at as a source of shame, not only in developing countries, but our neighbors with disabilities are marginalized in more developed countries as well. This shame, coupled with difficult economic conditions in the DR, make such an orphanage the best option for some parents.
  3. While we can focus on human rights issues, or on economic conditions, it is quite clear that success for people with disabilities is directly correlated to the degree with which the community comes into contact with them. It ultimately is not about money, not about rights, not about forcing the issue, but about relationships, that very basic human function for which God created each of us.

We traveled to Templo del Dios Viviente (Temple of the Living God) for a Special Needs Conference that the Manons had arranged to benefit Dominican Republic parents, psychologists, physical therapists, and especially people who worked directly with people who had disabilities. After a short introduction of our team, those present got right into the questions, which were ably handled by members of our team, by God’s grace.

Yet again, Elim’s version of ministry outreach was evident. Led by input from Sharon Duncan and Pam Connolly, we weren’t fishing for our brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic. We were sharing with them about how we fish, and how we’ve had success with those we serve. Elim is committee to intentional outreach, not just building more “Elims,” but actually sharing the expertise we’ve developed and giving our partners the tools to use that expertise themselves.

On top of that, we were blessed to hear about how some partners have already worked hard to involve the whole community in the life of someone with disabilities, to remove the shame that is so often associated with disability, and how so many of them have already realized the value of coming alongside those with disabilities in true reciprocal relationships.

In fact, Sharon Duncan and Pam Connolly were asked to speak about what people with disabilities meant to them. Sharon’s response is available in the brief video below.

Perhaps this day was best summed up with Bill Lodewyk’s words of encouragement to the conference attendees.

We believe that God has called us at Elim to challenge the Christian community to be a witness to Jesus Christ by how we include people who are differently-abled, and only when we do that will we know His blessings.”

Tomorrow is a full day, including the distribution of Elim HOPE Packs of school supplies. Please continue to keep this trip in your prayers.