Skip to cookie consent

Responding to children living with disabilities

A blog reflecting on the challenges and joys of explaining the gospel to those who may struggle to understand it

Written by Sas Conradie | 01 Aug 2022

A close-up of the torsos of three African children standing side by side at a desk, with pens in hand and books open.

Children at Kawalo School, near Lugazi, Uganda, where David Clemy and the Kitega Community Centre began working with disabled children from the local community. The disabled were typically very marginalised, and by bringing them into a context where they are among other local children, the stigma associated with disability is being reduced. Photo: Andrew Philip/Tearfund

When my wife and I decided to get married, both of us were still students. So we had to find work that could put food on the table and a roof over our heads. In the end we found work as house parents at a school for children with hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities. It was a role that changed our lives forever.

New challenge

Once back from our honeymoon we had to look after four boys in our house and sometimes up to 20 children in the centre where we lived. These children were not only deaf (and in this case could not speak), but they had the intellectual ages of between two and seven despite their physical ages being between five and seventeen.

To make it even more challenging, a number of the children were living with physical disabilities and various forms of autism. They came from very poor and neglected backgrounds. In many parts of the world they might have been killed at birth, abandoned or neglected to such an extent that few would have made it beyond their first five years.

Some of the children had difficult family situations. It is hard to imagine any more vulnerable people in the world than children living with these kinds of disabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child upholds the rights to life, survival, development, protection and participation of children living with disabilities but this principle is not often reflected in practice. So what should Christians do? 

Gospel guide

Before we started the job my wife and I read Matthew 25:34-46. We realised that these children might be the ones that Jesus spoke about in verse 40: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

A specific challenge to us was that we strongly believed in and lived out Matthew 28:19-20: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

We were involved in nearly every evangelistic initiative out there – on the street and beach, door-to-door and at rehabilitation centres. But how could we make disciples of children who could not hear what we said, never mind what we tried to explain?

We tried to explain the Gospel with flip charts but this proved difficult for them to understand. So we decided to do what Jesus said in verses 35 and 36 – we showed God’s love to them by giving them food and water, clothing them and looking after them when they were sick or needed comforting.

‘We cannot explain what happened to the boy, but there was a radical change in his life.’
Sas Conradie

Responding to God’s love

We took them on outdoor trips at weekends. We even took them up a mountain in a cable car. It was not easy, but one day one of the boys asked my wife in sign language whether he could pray when she put him to bed. My wife was quite surprised but said yes. He then responded in sign language: ‘I love Jesus because He loves me’.

We cannot explain what happened to the boy, but there was a radical change in his life. Somehow this boy saw God’s love in our lives through the way we cared for him and his peers. He understood that love and responded to God’s love.

After eight wonderful months caring for the children we left the school when I started working longer hours at the University of South Africa. But that time changed our perspective on working with children living with severe disabilities. We discovered that demonstrating the sort of love expressed in Matthew’s gospel could be groundbreaking for them. 

Here are some helpful discussion questions from an article in Footsteps 49 about working with children with disabilities:

You can read about how churches can be more inclusive and provide crucial support for families who are looking after loved ones with severe disabilities in Footsteps 108.

 
This blog has been updated from the original article published on Tearfund Learn in June 2019, when Sas Conradie was Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa.

Comments

Add a comment

Read comments

Written by

Written by  Sas Conradie

Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s International Partnerships Team Leader

Similarly Tagged Content

Share this blog

If you found this blog useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Get our blog updates

Subscribe to receive email updates when we publish new articles like this, exploring the theology behind our work.

Sign up now

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.