Disabled still excluded from church mission

AMS Staff

by Amy Butler

There are over 650 million people in the world living with a disability. And yet, according to Prabhu and Nancy Rayan who recently visited Australia, this people group is significantly unreached by the gospel.

The Rayans founded the International Fellowship for the Handicapped 22 years ago in India and now oversee 35 programs throughout the developing world. “Because Hindus believe in reincarnation, they perceive that disability is a result of sin in the last life, therefore creating a negative stigma around people with a disability. As a result some families try to hide away anyone with a disability – they can be totally isolated,” the Rayans said.

However, the Rayans are also critical of the Christian attitude to people with disabilities. “When the Christian missionaries came to India they set up institutions for people with disabilities. They might have been able to go to church but they were not involved. They were once again segregated from the rest of the community,” they said.

“The only hope for people with disabilities is Christ, charity will take them to the grave, but Christ will take them to eternity.”

While in Australian the Rayans visited many churches and Christian organisations in Sydney and Brisbane. St Mark’s, Yagoona, were among those hosting the Rayans.

Louise Gosbell, who attends St Marks, is completing a thesis on disability ministry at the Wesley Institute. “People were really impacted by the Rayan’s presentation because of their background and the work they’re doing,” Ms Gosbell said. “This has implications for our mission.”

The Rayans say condescending attitudes form the biggest barrier to their equal participation in the body of Christ. Ministry to people with disability must start with relationships, not charity. In all they do, the Rayans point to the example of Jesus and his interactions with people with disabilities.