It all began last December, when I met Pastor Daniel, Director of Joy Center for the Disabled, Inc., in a conference at San Diego, USA. I decided to attend a seminar titled “Special Missions” hoping to learn how to deal with autistic individuals in my church. I entered the room thinking about how I should interact with people with special needs and how I could perhaps change them. However when I left the room I was convicted that it was not them that needed to change, but myself.
My time with Joy Center has taught me that:
- Everyone is disabled in some way or another. Disability is when a person is unable to carry out a specific task at that moment. For example, people who are short are disabled when they have to grab something from the top of the shelf. Or, someone who has ADHD is disabled when they have to sit down for a long time.
- People with special needs are just individuals with very different gifts and talents that many of us may find difficult to understand.
- Many of us often treat these individuals with sympathy, when this is not what they need. They are capable and can be skilled in many ways if given the proper education. Like all of us, they too need to be disciplined, they need to be cared for and they themselves want to love and care for others.
- Surely, they their situation is neither because of their parents’ sin nor because of their own sin, but it are for God’s work to be displayed in them. (John 9:3)
- Faith goes beyond whatever a person’s physical condition is.
Later on, I decided to volunteer at Joy Center’s office and join Joy Vision team for a Mission trip in the Philippines and East Asia. I began working in the last week of May soon after my graduation from university. I was helping out with whatever I could do. On my second day of work, I met Joy. She is Pastor Daniel’s daughter, a 13 year-old with Down syndrome. She is rather short for her age with small eyes and a unique style of speaking. She saw me exhausted at the end of the day and she asked very simply “Why you look so sad?”, then I replied. “Oh no, I am just tired”. Then she told me, “Don’t be sad, Jesus speaks to your heart”. I was astonished by what she has to say. How could she at her age, easily talk about her faith when it is so difficult for me to say the same thing to a friend in need?
The following week, many of the teachers at one of Joy center’s Saturday school was unable to come. The Director of the school, who was also working at the office, asked if I could help in any way. She then gave me a CD with some songs that is usually sung at Saturday School and asked if I could lead praise on Saturday. The songs were simple common Sunday school songs that I sing at my church with little children. So I came to Saturday school, a little worried, not sure if I could do the job well. After I prepared my guitar and the slides, a few adults and old people began coming into the room. “Oh, volunteers…” I thought. Only later to realize that the adults with white hair, were actually, the students. It was too late then to turn back. I just had to do it. It went alright, the students tried to sing and it so happened that I had not picked the songs that they usually sing. The following week, I picked simpler songs recommended by the teachers. One of them goes like this, “Deep deep down down, deep in down heart, Do you love Jesus? Deep deep deep down down, deep down in your heart. Do you love your Jesus, deep down in your heart?” (then they are to shout) “Yes, I love my Jesus, deep down in my heart”.
When it was their turn, the students screamed in unison and sang their hearts out. I saw how much they loved to praise God and how simple they are in their faith, like that of a little child. There was a student there named Oscar Gonzales, 65-yrs old, He was rather quiet. He sometimes would smile, ask for a hug or shake someone’s hand and say that he is happy. However, when we asked him to get on with the physical education activities such as stretching, walking or moving around, he often say, “My head hurts” while touching his forehead, or, he would say, “My back hurts”, while touching his back. No one dared to push him to do physical activities thinking that he actually might have a bad back. During one of the class sessions, I was to share the gospel to Oscar. Before I could start talking about how to be saved, he cut me, and said that “We can go to heaven because Jesus died for us”, a short but perfect summary of the gospel. The usually quiet Oscar who barely says much was able to utter the gospel story perfectly. Then I told him, “Hey Oscar, then if your friend is sad, you should tell him about Jesus.” After that, he immediately turned to another student who was sitting next to him and started to ask if he was happy.
That was one of the few great experiences I have had with Joy center’s Saturday School. I can surely go on for hours about each student if I am given the time. (Evelyn is a member of GMI Sion Jambi. She just completed her bachelor in Environmental Sciences from University of California Berkeley in May 2012).