logo for UM Committee on Disability Ministries
Fall 2013Vol. 3 No. 5
Rev. Ann Adams surrounded by Kaaga students
Pupils Eagerly Teaching Kenyan Sign Language


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ!   


This month I am excited to introduce you to some of the Methodists involved in disability ministry globally who have crossed our path this year.  They have taught us to question our Western assumptions, and shown us new ways of doing ministry.  We are eager to form partnerships, but want to make sure that whatever evolves follows best practice standards of being led by the people in that country, being sustainable, and involving mutual and ongoing relationships based on strengths and assets. Mission trips are but one way of reaching out, and should be planned very deliberately if an invitation is forthcoming. Refer to the mission resources below if you are even thinking of forming a mission team. 


Lessons learned from our new friends include the realization that self-funded and self-sustaining disability ministry is possible, even in countries such as Vietnam where resources are limited.  We discovered there are alternatives to bringing donated wheelchairs and carts from the West, as countries like Kenya do a great job of manufacturing a variety of styles suited to local conditions.  We also found that annual conferences in other countries take seriously the charge to have a Disability Concerns committee, and that these committees effectively use their local resources to address many different needs. We have much to learn from our majority world neighbors!  


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Deaf Mission Trip to Kenya
Disability Program of the Methodist Church in Kenya
EDAN Conference on Women with Disabilities and Violence
Disability Ministries in Asia
Upcoming Events
Quick Links


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Deaf Mission Trip to Kenya Strengthens Partnerships
Since 1997 Carol Stevens has led six mission teams to Kenya with a focus on contributing to the education of Deaf children there. This summer a group of 16 persons from the US joined two from Zimbabwe to provide resources and support to Meru area Methodist- Deaf Methodist Mission team at equator in Kenya sponsored schools for children who are Deaf or have disabilities. At least half of the team members had been on previous trips so could build on relationships and knowledge from earlier visits. They were pleased to note many improvements in the schools, some of which school staff attributed to what they had learned during prior team visits.  

Rev. Dr. Tom Hudspeth, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing consultant for UMCOR Health, co-led the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf sponsored trip. Deaf team members became role models for children who haven't seen many educated Deaf adults, and were very popular with the students. Others team members included interpreters and pastors who have served Deaf churches. While some Deaf and hard of hearing team members taught new methods in Deaf education, others led Kirk teaching a Njia teacher new techniques vacation Bible School activities to free the teachers to attend the training.

Pupils come to the Methodist boarding schools from all over Kenya due to the shortage of Deaf schools and the reputation of the Njia and Kaaga Schools, whose graduates place high on national exams. Parents are responsible to pay for uniforms as well as minimum room and board costs, which are more than many families can afford. The state pays the teachers' salaries, but many other needs must be met by donations. The US team brought and purchased special education materials and school supplies. Money donated by US supporters enabled the team to fund washing machines for three schools, sparing the housemothers the tedious job of washing basins and buckets are the laundry facilities all laundry, including bedding, by hand. Beds and dining room furniture were purchased for one school. All funding decisions were made by the whole team based on members' observations and input from the school leaders.

A small team visited schools for children with disabilities and explored resources currently in place. They visited Kenya Methodist University to learn about medical and education programs, Maua Hospital to learn about healthcare, and the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) to learn about rehabilitation and other services available. They were impressed with a APDK program Team member and disability coordinator stand by hand pedaled  3 wheeled wheelchair employing people with disabilities to manufacture low-cost but sturdy wheelchairs. Their hope was to make connections that could lead to future partnerships and possibly disability-focused Volunteers in Mission trips.
Team members attended the Third Global Methodist Mission Conference of the Deaf during the second week in Kenya. Refer to a recent UMCOR article or the conference website for more details about the conference.

The Disability Programme of the Methodist Church in Kenya 

Those attending the World Deaf Missions Conference in Nairobi were grateful for the time and energy invested by the conference planning committee, which included representatives from the Methodist Church in Kenya.  


Alice Munala serves as national Disability Programme coordinator for the Kenya Methodist church.  Her scope is Alice seated in her office, laughing wide, as she provides disability awareness training for churches and clergy but also helps ensure that needs of individuals with disabilities are met.  For instance, she helps persons to sign up for government assistance and receive devices such as a prosthesis or wheelchair.  She knows that others may be eligible for a small business start-up loan or subsidies for extra costs for their college education.  She finds placements for children with disabilities who cannot be accommodated in local schools. Alice also works with the Disability Community Centre in Maua, a community-based rehabilitation project affiliated with Maua Methodist Hospital.


The fact that some bishops serve as Disability Committee chairs may be one reason that the Kenya church has such good compliance with establishing and maintaining active synod (conference) committees.  Kenya has ten synods, which would be called conferences in the US, as well as one each in Uganda and Tanzania.  Bishop Samuel smiling Rev. Samuel Kathia, bishop and Disability Committee chair of the Nairobi synod, served on the Deaf conference planning group and participated actively in the conference. The Kenya church expects every synod and church to celebrate Disability Awareness Sunday, and to contribute to the national office from the offering taken.  They encourage churches to involve persons with disabilities in preaching, ushering, offering prayers, and other parts of the service so they are seen as role models.  


One person can make a difference in changing attitudes in a whole country. Alice and Samuel credit Paul Lindoewood, a Methodist layman from Wales who lived in Kenya for nine years, with establishing the Kenya Methodist Disability Programme in 1997.  Paul used a wheelchair to get around, and his presence led to awareness and accessibility modifications in places like the popular Methodist Guest House where the Deaf Conference took place.  He also challenged the churches and conferences to start disability committees and helped them understand their potential roles.


Societal attitudes faced by the churches are complex. Kenya has a well-developed theology of disability, though as in many other countries awareness of the concepts may not be widespread. See the Resource section for a book that introduces African disability theology. Kenyan law is supportive of persons with disabilities, yet some rural parents still believe that disabilities are caused by witchcraft or unfaithfulness, and see no need to educate children who have disabilities.  The Persons With Disabilities Act of 2003 is similar to but broader than the Americans with Disabilities Act. The law requires, among other things, that television news, including lengthy coverage election returns, and educational programs have captioning or sign language interpretation. Because many Deaf Kenyans do not read English fluently, interpreters are consistently provided. Kenyan law also ensures that there are members of Parliament who have and represent others with disabilities.    


Another Methodist resource is Kenya Methodist University, a new university serving over Disability team members with Vice Chancellor and special education teacher from Kenya Methodist University 9000 students in nine campuses and community centers. The main campus in Meru is very interested in partnering with persons and teams who come to Kenya, and can help set up programs and projects based on their wide network of contacts. The university offers medical and special education training, and is continually adding new programs.  Contact Gitonga M'Mbijjewe for more information. 


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Ecumenical Conference on
Women with Disabilities and Violence in South Africa

After attending the ecumenical conference on "God of life, lead us to justice and peace: A reflection on violence against women with disabilities," the Rev. Kathy Reeves is determined to help the church make Kathy Reeves looking thoughtful a difference. Kathy, the former GBGM Executive Secretary whose portfolio included disability ministry, is a legally blind pastor from the Northern Illinois Conference.  She currently serves as Coordinator for Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.  

Hosted by a shelter for women who are escaping domestic violence in Johannesburg, South Africa, the conference brought together women with disabilities from several African countries as well as some from Western countries.  Participants included women who had lived at the shelter. As the women shared their stories, Kathy noted that it is difficult for women who are already marginalized in their cultures to find their voice and act to stop perpetrators of abuse. Although the stories were horrific, Kathy found hope in the women being able to name their difficulties as they realized that if they don't tell the stories no one will speak for them and no one will know.   


The conference aimed to develop strategies to empower women and develop advocates who will lift up these concerns that the world is so willing to ignore. Kathy indicated that there is very little research of the extent of violence against women and children with disabilities in the US or elsewhere, though the studies that have been done indicate a much higher prevalence than in the general population. She isn't aware of many programs, secular or faith-based, in any country which specifically target these women and children who are doubly vulnerable. Participants at the EDAN conference, some with canes and wheelchairs  


Kathy calls on the church to ask questions, to learn to the signs of abuse, and to be a sanctuary for people who have experienced abuse. The next step is to identify or develop resources and programs and to take the lead in developing support services. The church can help women with disabilities find their place and voice in the community through education and opportunities to earn a living. In addition, more research is needed, especially in the African context.   


Outcomes of the conference include publishing a book on the concerns of women with disabilities and developing a strategic plan for an EDAN structure to empower women with disabilities. For more information and to get involved contact Kathy Reeves through e-mail, and refer to articles at about the conference at UMCOR and EDAN.   


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Disability Ministries in Asia 


Vietnam The Chien An Disabled Adults Ministry in Vietnam's Mekong Delta is a self-sustaining craft production facility and community started by local United Methodist participants seated at a table working on crafts ministers.  According to Dr. David Watson, who recently visited the program, the ministry receives no outside support.  Instead, they have "utter reliance that God will provide what is needed to change minds and lives and help people see what needs to be done in the name of Christ." 


Participants make inlaid wooden crafts that are sold in town, and raise tropical fish for sale.  They live together, dormitory style, and worship together. Living in a country that doesn't have many economic opportunities for people with disabilities, they are thankful for the chance to work.  The two pastors who established the ministry and their families also live on the farm.  For more information and to see a video about the program see the West Ohio Annual Conference website

The Philippines Rev. Meliton Artemio of the Northwest Philippines Annual Conference recently reached out to the Committee to explore partnership with us. Mel serves as chair close up of Mel for his conference Disability Concerns committee, and is active in regional organizations of persons with disabilities. His committee works with local churches to identify and educate persons with disabilities so they can register with the government to be eligible for services, and understand their legal rights and privileges. The committee also is training churches on disability rights and on interacting appropriately with persons with disabilities. A big concern is lack of work for persons with disabilities, so the committee will conduct seminars on livelihood activities. The conference aims to have Disability Concerns coordinators in every district and local church. Mel shared with us the PowerPoint summary of the work of the committee that he presented at this year's annual conference. Contact the committee e-mail for more information.
Sri Lanka Sensitized because his son is Deaf, Rev. Samuel Gnanarajah challenged the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka to address the needs of persons with disabilities. The result was Deaf Link, an organization of the Methodist Church Sri Lanka that provides a variety of close up of Samuel services in several communities for children and adults who are Deaf or have disabilities.  
Activities are organized in four areas: education, employment and vocational training, empowerment, and entertainment, or the four E's. Education is a priority because enrollment by children with disabilities lags far behind that of other children in the country. Services include community-based day care centers, inclusive education units in primary schools, and instruction in sign language and computer skills for Deaf children and adults. Teaching is difficult as there is no recognized indigenous Sinhalese sign language and public schools continue to use the oral method. 
In a partnership with the non-profit CBM, vocational programs for school drop-outs and displaced youth teach tailoring, food processing, farming, leatherwork, and other marketable skills in four different communities. Leadership training is offered along with courses for special education teachers. Other programs are day camps for children with disabilities and their parents, sports events, celebrations, and gifts given to Deaf children and adults at holidays. For the past eight years a Korean pastor has served the Deaf Methodist church, which meets a need for worship and fellowship among adults who cannot follow an oral service.  Samuel presenting at Deaf conference
Stigma is a barrier to integration in the community. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Deaf Link, the program made a video, "We are Deaf not Dumb," to help decrease prejudice. The video was a hit when Samuel shared it at the recent World Deaf Methodist mission conference in Kenya. A copy of his full slide presentation is available online.

Upcoming Events

Jan 15, 2014             Creating Hope: The Power of Faith Communities

                                   in Mental Health Recovery                                         Chicago, IL


This workshop shares first person accounts, local church models, and best practices for incorporating companionship to support persons living with mental illness.  Sponsored by Pathways to Promise: Interfaith Ministry and Mental Illness. Speakers include Nanette Larson and Craig Rennebohm.  To register or learn more check the Pathways brochure




Feb 6-8, 2014           Walking Together: Christian Communities 

                                  and Faithful Responses to Mental Illness                 Houston, TX


An international panel of speakers will present on the place of the church and society in addressing mental health throughout history, then lead a discussion on how the past can transform the future by helping re-imagine possibilities for how a community can provide healing and support.  Read the program and register at the Reimagining Life Together website.  Sponsored by Duke Divinity School, the Hope & Healing Center, and other partners. 



May 8-9, 2014          The Fullness of Christ: A Church for All People       Tipp City, OH


Featuring Marva J. Dawn, William C. "Bill" Gaventa, Barbara J. Newman, Jeremy Schipper, and Mike Slaughter, with additional break out sessions to help equip clergy and laity to be faithful in ministry with people with disabilities.  

Sponsored by United Theological Seminary. For more information contact Laura Weber.




June 16-20, 2014     Summer Institute on Theology and Disability            Dallas, TX


Save the date!  More information to follow here and at the Bethesda Institute website where you can also view presentations from prior years.   


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Web Resources

Disability and Development: Learning from action and research on disability in the majority world, Emma Stone, ed. (1999).  The entire book is available to download from the Centre for Disability Studies, University of Leeds. 

DOOR International - Program that translates the Bible into indigenous sign language. Some US Deaf mission team members visited the Africa center in Nairobi.  

"Preparing for the Journey: A Devotional Guide for Teams," by R.G. Lyons, 26 page booklet available through SE Jurisdiction UMVIM. 

"Short term missions for long-term partnership," by Daniel Rickett, 6 page document with practical tips for mission trips.

"The 7 Standards," Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions, SOE. 

When Helping Hurts, a community of people who take an assets-based approach toward healing the poverty in all of us.  The Chalmers Center.

"Why Most Mission Trips are a Waste of Time (and how to make sure yours isn't)" by Noel Becchetti, Center for Student Missions

Publications      cover of Disability, Society, and Theology book, showing a cross made from crutches

Disability, Society, and Theology: Voices from Africa, Samuel Kabue, Esther Momba, Joseph Galgalo, and C.B. Peter, eds. (2011), Limuru, Kenya: Zapf Chancery, available through Amazon or African Books Collective


Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence, by David A. Livermore (2nd edition, 2013), Grand Rapids: Baker Books.


When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself, by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert (2nd edition, 2012), Chicago: Moody Publishers. 


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Don' t forget that on December 3rd, Giving Tuesday, your gift to Disability Ministries will be doubled!  Click on the link above to donate. 


We would love to hear about more disability ministries from Pan-Methodist churches around the world, in the hope that we can network and strengthen each other.  Please let us know about programs, agencies, and events that empower persons with disabilities to participate fully in life in their respective countries.   


Remember to spread the word about our work by using the "Forward email" tool below so that your friends and colleagues can read and subscribe to the newsletter.  


May you have a blessed Advent and Christmas, as God continues to show us signs of new birth in our midst.  



United Methodist Committee on DisAbility Ministries


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Contact us through the Committee email address.