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To be “special”

To be “special”

Taida Herrera (AYC)

Young people at the Pan European Adventist Youth Congress meet the Special Needs Ministry.

August 10, 2017 | Bern, Switzerland. | C. Cozzi, T. Rivero

Something “special” happened at the Adventist Congress held in Valencia, from August 1-6, 2017, to the satisfaction of the organizers. For the first time at a Youth Congress, a booth and a workshop about people with special needs and disabilities was organised. The promotion of the existence of such a ministry within the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Adventist) was highly dynamic. The decision to invite the youth to not only receive some information but, above all, to live some “special” experiences was impactful.

“Throughout the week, many young people participating in the congress approached our booth,” said Taida Rivero, Director of Spanish Deaf Ministry and international partner. “They believed that what they were going to find they already knew beforehand.” But this was not so!

People who cannot walk, are blind or deaf, or are in challenging situation in their existence, are quite often considered as living life at the edge, away from the “natural” context. This depends mainly on a kind of prejudice that results more from a lack of knowledge then real prejudice.

“We looked for ways to help our young participants to break this assumption and live an experience that had the intent of changing their mind-set,” said Corrado Cozzi, Adventist Inter-European Region (EUD) Deaf Liaison and Special Needs Ministry Director.

The change of “thoughts” came to their lives when young congress participants, who did not suffer from any physical disability, were faced with the real concept of disability.

“What we did,” said Rivero, “was to provide some playful activities to emphasize the importance of helping friends with disability.”

One of the tests that the youth experienced was to play "football as if they were blind".

Imagine two teams (few persons), with covered eyes, playing with a ball that had many little bells (to make noise) and trying to score.

It seems easy from the perspective of a reader but, when lived personally, the situation starts to be a bit more problematic. In a place full of people who were enjoying the event, screaming around you, not being aware of where your opponent or your partner is, losing the orientation of where to score, and risking at any moment to be disoriented and defenceless: these were some of the sensations experienced by these young people.

Although it seemed funny for a few moments, there were moments when we could see, in the faces of some participants, the desire to finish the game and finally remove the mask from their eyes.

The darkness, the overwhelming feeling of not knowing where the ball is, or the simple fact of being surrounded by many people, who touched you to help you orient yourself and not knowing who they were...these are feelings that no one likes to experience. But alas, many blind people must deal with this all their lives.

Another activity was to invite youth to sit in a wheelchair and make a tour guided by a blind person. Of course, they enjoyed it by considering it as a game but most of the youth (over hundreds) that experienced this trial admitted that they could understand those who are not living it as a game, but as reality for their entire life.

“These emotions have been analysed briefly during the workshop entitled “Rise and Walk,” said Cozzi. “As Christians we are called to work and serve all, including defending and assisting those with special needs, supporting their ability to live a life with dignity and respect.”

In fact, one of the goals of Special Needs Ministries is to seek to help create within all organizations, cultures and people groups a sense of inclusion for people with special needs—an inclusion that provides a sense of “belonging” and not simply being included on a membership list.   

In her intervention, Elsa Cozzi, EUD Children’s Ministries director, presented the issue from the point of view of children and their families.

“Disabilities are a challenge not only for the person directly involved but also for the family and the community. It is important for a church to be aware of the possibilities and responsibilities we may have: to welcome and support special needs people,” explained Elsa Cozzi.

Disability should not mean the impossibility to be able to approach the sense of this life, and in a religious context, to approach the eternal Gospel.

These people already live with many daily barriers imposed by society and sharing the gospel cannot become one more barrier for them.

“Disability is a means by which God acts through people who experience His love,” said Rivero. "Disability is nothing more than our inability to understand that we all have different abilities," he concluded, “and that all need to be evangelized to. But to reach it, we must understand the world of special needs people first, and afterward we can present to them a new kingdom, a new life without any disability.”

 



 

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