By Alexander Ogheneruemu
As a disability inclusion advocate who’s determined to see the trend gain traction in faith-based organizations, I have seen a few churches slowly buying into some of my propositions.
It is encouraging to see these changes. One experience however stands out. This happened in a small, local congregation of the Foursquare Gospel Church.
This little flock of unassuming worshipers is located on the outskirts of Jobele, Oyo, Oyo State. There, I had the best impression so far, of a church walking the inclusion talk.
I noticed this positive inclusive vibe (as opposed to exclusion/ segregation) toward Persons with Disabilities right from my first time worshipping there.
That day, the sight of a visually impaired drummer and choristers stirred up something in me. So too did the warm welcome and very personable aura of the pastor in charge. The first impression was amazing and I couldn’t help being liberal with words of commendation.
Pastor Soji Adeomi obviously took note of my words of commendational advocacy that day (for those who are new to the term commendational advocacy, simply put, it is that approach to disability advocacy that emphasizes being liberal with praise where and when due).
Things moved fast after that first encounter, for a couple of Sundays or so after, Pastor Adeomi requested if I would be willing to present an enlightening talk on Disability to the congregation. Ordinarily, I was flattered by that unexpected gesture to a new worshipper.
Another surprise came before that spark of an idea for a talk could materialise. It was something more significant – an initiative, a first of its kind in that church. They were planning for a Sunday worship service dedicated to, and to be officiated by the church’s brethren with disabilities.
This special occasion tagged PWD 1.0 held on Sunday, July 23 with the theme: “All things worketh together for good”.
And they rose to the occasion
From the Sunday school lesson to the sermon, from the choir rendition to the praise and worship session, the entire service was smoothly run by these brethren with Disabilities – a loud testament to what’s possible with inclusion.
Indeed, the observant mind could not have failed to notice how the occasion provided for the main actors (Brethren with Disabilities a fine opportunity to express otherwise repressed talents. The whole congregation saw on that day, a living testament to the verity of 2 Cor 12:9 where the Lord answered Paul concerning a Disability: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”.
It was a sight to behold as blind brethren demonstrated an uncanny capability for abstract retention and recall of humongous amounts of information. Listening to them deliver the full word ministrations – citing scripture upon scripture with no written materials to fall back on was simply awe-inspiring.
The choir piece, smoothly anchored by a blind female soloist, was a soulful rendition of Yoruba folk music narrating the sovereignty of God.
The soloist, a beautiful blind, light-skinned lady crooned an emotional narrative of God as the Gracious Potter who molded man beautifully and breathed His life into him. And because of this, man is bound to succeed in life’s journey. The performance was met with loud applause from the congregation.
A brief, moving speech highlighting rare scriptural insights into the subject of disability was taken by the deaf cluster.
On one hand, the array of individual and collective brilliance by these brethren with Disabilities served to amplify the text of Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.” One learns that a disability is undoubtedly one of those things God elects to serve his purpose.
On another hand, it is a challenge to the church. One asks: Does the church recognize that “all things” implied in Romans 8:28 includes Disability? And if she does, the very salient question arises: what measures are in place to show it? How far have we studied to show ourselves approved in this matter? How well are we dividing the word of Truth? How well are we embracing Disability inclusion in our churches?
Now, in this call for an Inclusive Church, we certainly don’t mean doling out hand-outs. Nor do we ask for sympathy.
Rather, it’s more about going beyond “looking” to “seeing” the finer sides of disabilities. It is about recognizing, first, the person and the human dignity before the disability.
It is more about the church being open to receiving enlightening information about disability, persons with disabilities, and disability inclusion. It’s more about ensuring we create the right environment, platforms, and opportunities that promote a healthy sense of belonging and allow these brethren to thrive and reach their potential.
The man at the center of it all
In a chat with Pastor Soji Adeomi on this subject, I remarked on his unusual broad-mindedness towards the ideal of an inclusive church and sought his comment on the topic.
His response is very instructive.
‘The motive is inclusiveness, the church is for us all, the unassuming pastor remarks’. “One of the reasons the program was organized is for persons with disabilities to feel among. Another one is to discover the grace of God in their lives and tap that grace as a blessing to the church”.
According to him, a program like this will help us discover in what areas a person with disability can function, and contribute to the church.
Pastor Adeomi sees being welcoming to Persons with Disabilities as a function of God’s grace that accepts all. Every human being, he says, has one weakness or the other.
On how the church intends to build upon this initial move, pastor Adeomi hinted at plans to organize a “PWDs talent hunt”. This, according to him, will encourage them to live up to their potential.
“When a talent is discovered the church can encourage them with available resources while endeavoring to provide the right platform to operate”, he, sums up.
It doesn’t take rocket science to realize that this humble pastor of a small congregation in a rural community just provided a sure template to a church for everyone by walking the talk. We hope others will follow.
Alexander Ogheneruemu blogs extensively on the subject of Disability. He can be reached on +2348062397128 (Whatsapp)