Hearing God’s heart

A tiny boy who was no more than a bundle of rags opened my eyes to the neglect and stigma facing children living with disability – and to God’s blueprint for community, writes Susie.

Children at a displaced people’s camp in Uganda

I was walking through a huge tented ‘city’, home to some of the 1 million Ugandans who had fled the brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Weaving along a track between tents, I saw a bundle of rags on the ground. As I drew nearer, I was shocked to realise it was a child, white with dust. The dust was in his eyes and his mouth. People were just stepping him over him.

I saw he was floppy and probably had cerebral palsy. As I knelt down to pick him up and cradle him, people approached and said, ‘Don’t touch him: he’s nobody.’

I was shocked. ‘How can you say that?’ This little boy had been created by God and he was precious. I call him Beloved and his memory has never left me.

 

Outrage

Children at a displaced peoples camp in Uganda

I had gone out to Uganda after hearing Bishop Ben Ojwang of Kitgum at Greenbelt in 2003. He spoke passionately about his people in northern Uganda being terrorised, raped, killed and abducted by Joseph Kony’s LRA. More than 20,000 children had been kidnapped – including the bishop’s daughter.

Bishop Ben was a small man in an outsized suit. He melted my heart. He had such courage and humility – and he had risked his life to get out of the country.

‘If one child in this nation was abducted, all hell would break loose in your media,’ he said. ‘Why have you turned your back on 20,000 of my children? Are they any less valuable than yours?’

I knew I had to go to Uganda. So in 2004, I went to Soroti and connected there with Global Care, through Kate Muammar, a lovely British woman working with APRECOM. That was the start of BCT’s support for Global Care’s work with displaced people, in particular helping them return to their villages.

 

Making the link

It was a year later that I attended a VIVA conference in the UK for about 300 people and went to a seminar about ‘mobilising a Christian response to disability’. Only three of us turned up. Horrified, we used the time to pray, calling on him to turn hearts towards children living with disability.

Soon afterwards, I had a call from Becky Wright in Zambia, who had connected with me through a mutual friend, Kelvin Samwata, whom I’d got to know through my work with what would become Lifewords.

Becky had started a small project named Wukwashi Wa Nzambi supporting children living with disability, and wanted BCT’s help to develop the project and take it further. I remembered Beloved in Uganda and bought into Becky’s vision at once.

 

Wukwashi supports hundreds of children with disabilities, and their families.

Walking with those on the margins

Ten years after it was established, BCT had worked with twelve partners in ten countries and had gained influence and an international reach. The stories of individual partner projects such as Wukwashi were to follow a similar trajectory.

Becky Wright and her husband, John, had been supporting disabled children in Zambia after realising that these children were being hidden away in huts and in shame. Becky’s skills as an occupational therapist were in great demand so, by 2004, the Wrights had begun a full-time ministry called Wukwashi. But they needed help. Becky and Susie met over coffee in London in 2005, and BCT started partnering with Wukwashi the following year.

Today, Wukwashi supports hundreds of families across Zambia’s Copperbelt and far beyond. It has influenced national policy on disability and helped BCT galvanise a response to disability in other African nations. It has given invaluable input into BCT’s ‘Transform Disability’ training resource, which was piloted in Zambia last year and is soon to be piloted with CRANE through VIVA in Uganda.