H. Daniel Kim
Yes, it is true that we as missionaries are doing missions in a broken world. Not just a mildly broken world, but a profoundly and utterly broken world.
Everywhere you look, there are signs that the world is fractured and human beings are deeply hurting. Some people are in so much pain, feeling hopeless that they take their own lives.
It has been recently established that, per population, Korea has the highest suicide rate in the world. This is also a country with one of the highest concentrations of mega-churches and church-attending Christians. How can one reconcile these two statistics? Recently there have been a number of Christians and even pastors who have committed suicide in Korea. Many churches and church leaders in Korea are only devoting criticisms to persons who took their own lives. They are asking, “How can a pastor do this? How can a Christian do this?” and even suggesting they must not have been truly committed Christians but “pseudo” Christians instead.
How often, Evangelical churches and church leaders in Korea and other countries seem to pay little attention to other very serious issues. Issues involving injustice, inequality, discrimination, poverty, racism, sex trafficking, child labor, war, etc. issues which are equally important in the regular ministries they currently are doing.
What Is Broken?
Our bodies, minds, families, relationships, systems, governments, and ecosystems, all suffer from a deep brokenness. Yes, we cannot deny that everything around us is broken. Every facet of this world is fractured. No single good thing remains intact. God’s heart is also broken at this state of affairs of His creation. Well, people seem to like to break things, they even say, “world records are broken.”
Murder, terror, lies, scandals, corruption, exploitation, pollution, greed – there is a long list of problems this world faces today and it is only getting longer and worse.
As a missionary for persons with disability, I may also say, that the world is “disabled.” Viewed through this lens, the world becomes disabled because people have disabilities not physically but socio-spiritually. As we know, when Adam and Eve brought sin into the world, a curse fell upon the earth. Thus, it is part of the ministry and responsibility of Christians to participate with God’s work of restoration of all of the brokenness in the world.
What Does Our Statistics Show?
1. UNICEF report:
- That there are 16,000 children who die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.
- The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.
- 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.
- Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.
- Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.
- Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
- Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to malnutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.
2. According to World Health Organization, people With Disability consists of 15% out of the total world population
3. The United Nations reported recently that there are fewer marriages but more divorces. The country with the highest ratio of divorces is Belgium, with a whopping 71% of marriage to divorce ratio. As of 2015, the percentage of the list of countries with divorce is 1. Belgium: 71%;2. Portugal: 68%;3. Hungary: 67%;4. Czech Republic: 66%;5. Spain: 61%;6. Luxembourg: 60%;7. Estonia: 58%;8. Cuba: 56%;9. France: 55%;10. USA: 53%
The UN report also showed that there is a rise in births outside marriage. The highest rates of non-marital childbearing occur in Latin America (55–74 percent). The only other countries to share these high rates are South Africa (59 percent) and Sweden (55 percent). The range within Europe is huge: from 18 percent (Italy) to 55 percent (Sweden). Those in North America and Oceania are also high and rising, though New Zealand (47 percent) and the United States (41 percent) stand out, with more than four out of ten births outside of marriage in these two countries.
A Case In Uganda
Demographic profile of Uganda’s population :
1) 29.6 million people live in Uganda (2008 projection);
2) 57% of Uganda’s population (i.e. 16 million) are children below he age of 18 years;
3) An estimated 5 million children in Uganda live below the poverty line;
4) Approximately 105,000 children aged 0-14years are HIV positive.
Current status of Orphans and other vulnerable Children in Uganda
1) 2.3 million orphans in Uganda (2007);
2) One out of every 4 households in Uganda has at least one orphan;
3) Almost one out of every two orphans is a result of AIDS.
4) OVC are estimated to be 7.5 million, equivalent to 46% of all children (2007).
Stories From Joy Uganda
In countries like Uganda, a disabled child is seen as a curse, bringing shame on the family. Mothers who gave birth to a disabled baby are often told to abandon or even kill their infant child. Children with cerebral palsy are frequently left lying on the floor. They can live lonely, miserable and isolated lives, suffering from malnutrition, respiratory problems or pressured sores.
Hundreds of Ugandan children are reportedly being sacrificed every year by witch doctors who have convinced the country’s superstitious elite that mutilating them will make them even richer.
Wealthy businessmen are paying traditional healers thousands of pounds to hunt down impoverished children and harvest their body parts, which they believe can cure impotence and boost their fertility. These witch doctors sever limbs and remove children’s genitals after kidnapping them on their way home from school or as they go to fetch water for their family. Their dismembered remains are later discovered in forests and building sites.
In Uganda, many people living with neurological disabilities and other similar conditions are seen as having misfortunes in their lives. It is believed that people with such disabilities are useless and burden the community, with no hope for a better future.
Many children from northern Uganda suffering from hydrocephalus are given names associated with evil spirits or are referred to as evil spirits. Naming of these children is typically done by the paternal grandmother. Some parents have been forced to kill these children or have abandoned them, allowing them to die from neglect. They are stigmatized and blamed for causing such disabilities in their children and forced to consult evil spirits for the healing of their children.
BIBLICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR SPECIAL MISSIONS
For missions to the broken, we may say that we are engaging in “special missions.” Special missions may include efforts such as ‘special needs ministry’, ‘disability ministry’, ‘homeless ministry’, ‘hospice ministry’, ‘hotline for teenage pregnancy’, ‘suicide prevention lifeline’, ‘HIV helpline’, ‘rescue mission for women’, ‘abandoned children ministry’, ‘refugee missions’, ‘rehabilitation missions for drug and alcohol addicts’ etc. These are just some common conventional classifications that refer to “special missions”.
What Is The Meaning Of “Special’? Who Are ‘Special’?
Can we consider “children with disabilities” special? Currently children with mental disabilities are called special children and they are undergoing training under “special education”. So because of them, the word special pertains to having disabilities. There are myths about children with disabilities, such as: they are ‘angels’ they have a sixth sense, or they are born with supernatural powers, etc. Are children angels? My answer is yes and no. Yes because every human being is created in the image of God and given to us as a special gift. No because they are not angels by nature. They are the same as we are. They are as silly as we are. They are sinful as much as we are.
Are Workers Serving Certain Groups Special?
Are special education teachers special? Are volunteers to ministries to special children can be called special? People assume that they took jobs serving people with disabilities because they are special. I, often told myself that I am very special due to the work that I do. Well, from my around 30 years in disability ministry, I observed that we are no different from anyone else, we maybe well-intentioned, but we are also sinful and corruptible just like others. Of course there are exceptional teachers and leaders for people with disabilities. Nevertheless, they are not special people in a sense that they are specially chosen or inherently special. Do these ministries require special knowledge or skills? Not necessarily. It may require proper training and education, which all other areas would also demand. However, the bottom line is that “only special love is required.”
In summary, everybody is special! Nobody is an exemption. The “no child left behind policy” for education in the USA (adopted under Bush administration) reflects equality and non-discrimination against disabilities and thank God for this!
Direct” vs “Indirect Missions”
Some missionaries express unhappiness or feel insignificant for their engagement in NGO work because they assume their work are an “indirect” form of missions. Is this assumption or definition of mission biblical? I do not believe that is biblical. Jesus never made a distinction between direct and indirect missions. When Jesus spent most of his time in Galilee ministering to people in the form of healing, casting out demons, and feeding the crowd, He never regarded those actions as a prerequisite for the more important work of preaching. Acts of compassion and the preaching of the gospel cannot be separated from each other.
Foundations Of Special Missions
The Bible strongly supports an imperative for healing the broken world.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
This is Jesus’ inaugural statement to start His ministry. To heal a broken world is one of Jesus’ core missional imperatives. He came to repair, restore, revive, rebuild, heal, and renew. He did not come simply to save souls.
Examining Isaiah 60 / Luke 4:18-19
Different ministries are not independent or segregated efforts, but part of the larger work God is doing. Healing ministry, care for the homeless, welfare for the disabled, teaching special children, each is by nature a portion of the whole “Kingdom ministry.”
And he went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom
And stood up to read.
Portion A….The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
Portion B…….He has sent me to proclaim for the prisoners release
And recovery of sight for the blind,
to send away the oppressed into release
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he rolled up the scroll,
Portion A-1 gave it back to the attendant
And sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them . . .
A key word in Jesus’ jubilee proclamation is “poor.” It seems that Luke intended to write the verses in Luke 4:16-20 in a chiastic structure as above.
Examining this uniform poetic structure is helpful in interpreting the text. The passage has three distinct sections: The first part (A) describes Jesus’ actions before reading the Scripture from Isaiah. The corresponding third part describes Jesus’ actions after he finished the reading (A-1). The central part is the quotation from Isaiah (B).
Most importantly, in this poetic structure, the phrases “good news to the poor” and “the year of the Lord’s favor” are parallel, which creates a focus on the three central lines (in bold). The focus of the passage is indeed the essence of Jesus’ Messianic role, that is, to release people from physical, social, and spiritual bondage. It is interesting that Jesus’ focus on jubilee mission is summarized under the heading “good news to the poor.” Therefore, it is probable that the term “the poor” was used as “a sort of collective term for all the disadvantaged, particularly the captives, the maimed, the blind, and the lepers” (Bosch).
R. Lenski observes that in the LXX text of Isaiah 61:1-2 there are no articles for “poor,” “captives,” and “blind” people. Thus he asserts, “Poor” is a general term for the entire beggarly condition.
Thus it can be said that “good news to the poor” is the gracious word of inclusion to the marginalized people. This is the motif that calls for inclusiveness. It is now proclaimed that the Gentiles are recipients of God’s deliverance too.
There are broken people groups introduced in the passages, such as the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Nevertheless, the mission that Jesus was commissioned was not healing ministry itself, rather it was kingdom that was eschatologically realized through those disadvantaged people groups. They were not merely targets for so called ‘compassion ministry’, rather they became main guests for a divine banquet in the kingdom of God (Lk 14:15-24).
A. Missions to the Deaf in China
Deaf in China: one of the largest unreached people group in the world. Very recently, the International Missions Society identified the deaf community in the people group list. In fact, no well-known international mission agency has previously strategized about reaching this group, because they have not regarded them as a separate people group. They had just been considered “handicapped”.
The following stories highlight an extraordinary and ground-breaking way of engaging in missions to the disabled. They illustrate how missions can be accomplished in a way that “traditional” modes of missions cannot.
There are 30M deaf in China (according to the Government official survey). The numbers of Christians among deaf in China are less than 1%. Joy Missions for the Disabled has been doing missions for the deaf in China for about 20 years. We have established a couple of bible schools and training centers for them. We have also planted more than 50 churches for the deaf in China. This numbers are extremely small in comparison to the total deaf population in China. However, we helped them to discover their unique contribution in a way unimaginable to people with conventional and limited view of this population. People regard deaf as “disabled”, as people unable to hear or speak and as severely limited in communication abilities. In fact, the deaf have a robust method of communication which is as expressive and complex as any other language: sign language.
Amazing Testimony: deaf evangelism tour by train: We have been training teams to go out for deaf evangelism tours by train, in addition to planning deaf church planting in cities or towns near our deaf bible training center. Due to the huge geographical scale in this part of China, it takes at least 10 hours by train to go to these designated towns. Actually, this is an improvement from the 10-15 hours it used to take before the recent high-speed train developments.
Our deaf seminary organizes outreach teams for the purpose of deaf church planting city to city. Our teams love to take trains for missions because of its effectiveness. As soon as team members are on board, they tour the train compartment by compartment to scan if there are any deaf passengers on board. They are easy to recognize because they use sign language. As already mentioned, there are 30 million deaf persons in China. It means they are everywhere. You can meet them wherever you go. When our mission teams find someone who is deaf, they approach the person and begin to talk using sign language. Not different than one would start a conversation with someone in any other language! Pretty soon the team members begin to present the gospel, often with great enthusiasm. They share about Jesus even with their faces and clothes covered in sweat. Their witness only stops when the train stops at the destination. This can be up to 10 hours of talking! Passengers on board marvel at their nonstop enthusiastic signing. Policemen have even watched over their conversations without a clue that they are talking about Jesus because they do not understand sign language. In places where public evangelism is still strictly banned, the deaf are freely talking about Jesus! The deaf community, which has been marginalized as “disabled”, is freely speaking about Jesus, whereas we, people of speech, have to shut our mouths in public, which ironically results in the disabling of our speech. This is a secret of disability ministry.
One church for the deaf, which I love, is in S city in China. This church has no building. They worship just in the isle by the market place where loud noises from shops all around are shouting to attract customers. The sounds of rushing cars passing by on the street, people bustling through the meeting place, music blaring from the store across from us are all noises that distract ones attention. All of these distracted me from concentrating on worshiping together. But despite the surrounding noises, our deaf friends had no problems staying very devoted to the worship. The deaf preacher also was not bothered by the surroundings.
We who can hear see them as disabled because they cannot hear. However, they confessed that “we are so blessed because we do not hear the meaningless dirty words of the world. We are only sensitive to what the Holy Spirit speaks.” What a powerful sentiment! This is the kind of disability ministry that breaks the stereotype of perception towards people with disabilities and propose a new horizon for missions.
B. A Case of Mission in Uganda
There are so many amazing stories about special missions. I would like to add just one example of disability ministry.
In Uganda, we attempted a strategic approach to Islamic missions through our special education teachers training program which runs in co-partnership with Uganda Christian University. Our pilot tests resulted to very surprising outcomes after the short term: there is a serious shortage of special education teachers in Islamic countries. So we have been asked to send special education teachers to those Islamic countries. Now through partnership with special education professionals and institutions we are equipping those candidates with a mission mind. Thus special education teachers may be great instruments for missions to Muslim countries in the future.
IMPLICATIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
“Program-centered” vs “people-centered” approaches to ministry
A Program-centered ministry can become more of an “it” than an “us”. Ministry is meant to be an engagement in real relationships that pay attention to the unique individuals whom we are serving and sharing in a community.
Often times, we can get so focused on the hard work of keeping programs running and implementing new initiatives that we can lose sight of the unique individuals and God’s image bearers we serve, who are the true purpose of the mission. In conclusion, paradoxically disadvantaged people groups can be contributing to heal the broken world.
Dr. H. Daniel Kim is the Executive Director of Joy Research and Service Center for the Disabled. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Uganda Christian University. He earned a Ph.D in Inter Cultural Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary (Mississippi, USA).