Gatsibo training workshop

As soon as we finish visiting Moses in Bugesera, we jump back into the car to travel four hours to Gatsibo for a two-day training workshop in disability inclusion for 30 key church leaders in the Eastern Province. Peace Plan has funded the conference. Those attending are leaders in authority over several churches. If they catch the vision, they can envision others.

I teach over the next two days using a mix of discussion groups, games and exercises and role plays. Mid afternoon of the first day finds us packed into a bus with all the participants, lurching our way over bumpy dirt-track roads to Ngarama where Peace Plan has arranged for us to visit a home for children with disability, with the idea that participants can see that this is NOT the best solution for them. It feels like a school trip and there is chatter and laughter and an ebullient atmosphere. Bishop Magasa oversees 28 churches in Ngoma that are part of Eglises Vivantes, a Pentecostal stream. His face is warm and he is eager to share what he thinks of the workshop so far. ‘Your teaching so far has been truly wonderful,’ he smiles. ‘I live in an area where there are many people who are disabled. I am now ready to give myself to this work and to mobilise care and support for children with disability through my churches.’

As we approach the children’s home, the heavens open and rain deluges down in torrents. We run from the bus into a shelter on the side of the home in which several children are seated at a large, round table, playing with cards and jigsaws. Others are seated in wheelchairs. As we enter, their faces light up and those who can walk come and grab our hands. ‘My name is Gad’, says a boy with Downs’ syndrome. ‘What’s yours?’ There are 26 children in the home – some with profound impairments. This is the first time that many of the church leaders have ever seen children with disability because those in their villages are hidden away because of the guilt and shame associated with having a disabled child. Their faces register shock and discomfort. Others naturally begin to play and interact with the children and to show them kindness. It is a big learning curve for all of them. At the debrief meeting after supper, they express their impressions of the visit. ‘Everything that you have been teaching us now makes sense,’ says Pastor Emmanuel. ‘It’s no longer theory. I am thinking about what the next steps are for me.’ ‘My heart is pained,’ shares another. ‘What have I been doing all this time? My ministry has been about having big crusades, when these are the ones who most need love and help.’

The following day there is a new energy in the room. During our time of prayer together, the Holy Spirit really moves amongst us and many pastors, men and women alike are reduced to tears of repentance at the way that they have neglected and shunned children and adults with disabilities. Hearts have been powerfully touched and changed and there is a real desire to be used by God to bring about change.

The participants draw up plans for practical action, setting dates that they will begin the activities and citing who will be involved. Several commit to going through their villages to identify homes where there are disabled children and to build friendships with them and their parents. Others commit to training their church members in what they have learned and to setting up teams who will do home visits to them. Another team will start a play group for children of all abilities including those who have impairments. We finish the workshop with enthusiastic praise and dancing to celebrate all that has been learned and all that God will do in and through us as we put what has been learned into practice. ‘I’ve never been to anything like this,’ confides Pastor Emmanuel. ‘My heart has been changed forever.’

I thank God that the outcomes of this workshop have exceeded all expectations and that he has graciously opened the eyes of the deaf and blind through all that has taken place. Odeth will follow up with these church leaders to see how they are progressing with their plans and to seek to form a core team of church leaders willing to become champions for children with disability. Our hope is that they will use their influence to bring on board other church leaders and to help train them in what they have been taught, so that the impact can gradually ripple across the nation.