Today we hear from Dwayne Milley, Vice President of Christian Horizons Global. Dwayne has a heart for people with disabilities around the world and seeing them belong to communities. He lives with his wife Karen and daughter Deepika in Toronto, Ontario. You can check out more of his writing at dwaynemilley.com or learn more about Christian Horizons’ international work at CHGlobal.org.
Matthew the disciple recounts a story about John the Baptist and Jesus (Mt. 11). John is in prison and hears about the works of Jesus, so he sends some of his people to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?”
To me, it appears John was confused. It wasn’t too long before when John had baptized Jesus and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” Jesus was foretold to be the great redeemer and John has wound up in prison. John could have been confused because freedom from prison didn’t seem to be part of Jesus plan. Instead, Jesus was hanging around with people who were far removed from the powerful of the day.
Jesus received John’s followers and sent message back to John. I’ve paraphrased so far, but here I’ll quote from Matt. 11:4-5 (ESV): Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
Jesus’ reply was to tell John what they had seen and heard, which was what seems to have confused John in the first place. Essentially, Jesus told John, ”Yes, I am the one and this is my work”.
At face value, Jesus was engaged in the supernatural and people were being healed. Having worked with people with disabilities for two decades and now working with people in extreme poverty in under-resourced countries, I have been blessed to have a new lens through which to see this story. These people healed by Jesus had no hope. Their poverty and disability, in his day, relegated them to begging outside the city. Being healed enabled them to be known again in the general population. Healing brought them back to community.
Modern medical technology helps people with a visual impairment, for example, to be able to live and work independently. Equipping someone who is blind with Braille or other assistive technology helps people to know and be known, to be in community. Of course, Jesus can and does still perform miracles, but that’s not the point.
The point – when Jesus restored sight he removed a barrier and enabled the man who was once blind to be restored into community. The man did not need to beg. He could now belong.
In October I met a man named Fikadu. Blind from birth, he was helped by Christian Horizons with a small amount of money (small in western standards, unreachable for Fikadu). He used the cash to pay someone to read to him or transcribe into Braille while in university. Today he is married with children, owns a home and works as a Crown Prosecutor at the Attorney Generla’s office in Ethiopia’s capital.
When Christian Horizons engaged him with a little support, we were following the example of Jesus that Matthew described. John was in prison and Jesus showed him that his kingdom would not be established by force or violence or prison breaks, but through people who were deemed ‘weak’ and ‘outcast’ and ‘unclean’ – the church.
Healing happens, miracles occur, when barriers are removed to assist people with disabilities. In the words of another gospel writer, I believe this is the work of the church – to welcome everyone, removing obstacles that get in the way, that all may know life, and know it to the full (John 10:10).