Friday, 1 February 2013

Go! Endai! Hambani!


The mission of Faith and Light

‘Go’ is a short word in English and ‘endai’ or ‘hambani’ are not much longer. Yet this little word contains everything! The word ‘go’ opens the final solemn sending out of the disciples when Jesus is about to return to the Father (Matthew 28:19). The mission of Faith and Light, like the mission of Jesus from the Father and indeed the mission of the Church herself, is contained in that little word. We were not created to stand still, like the rocks of Epworth or the Matopos, but to move and grow and enjoy the gift of life. The mission of Faith and Light is simply to share that gift of growth and life with people who are ‘disabled’ or unable to share fully in these gifts because of their circumstances.

Faith and Light focuses on people with intellectual disabilities (mental handicaps). These brothers and sisters of ours were born the way they are or they became disabled for some reason and often they have lived cut off from the mainstream of life. They have not gone to normal schools. They have not got a job. They cannot marry. And their parents suffered at their birth. ‘Why do I have a child like this? Is it a punishment from God?’ Sometimes it leads to tensions between husband and wife and can even lead to divorce. To have a handicapped child is a painful experience. Our calling, our mission, in Faith and Light, is to help people with such disabilities and their parents not to be sad and withdrawn and angry but to realise that God loves them just as they are and that he has a mission for them in our world today.

The Mission
What is this mission? We know that there are many people and institutions that care for people with disabilities. At the most basic level they provide food and shelter and medical care. Some go further and try to stimulate the person with disabilities by providing work opportunities and social gatherings and entertainments. All these are good but we need to go further. In Faith and Light we do not claim that we have all the answers but we do try to provide one thing that every human being longs for, namely, relationship.

The early church struggled for three hundred years to understand what Jesus meant by ‘baptising in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Are there three Gods? Definitely not! But in a way that lies hidden to us there are relationships within God. We can say ‘God is relationship’ just as we say ‘God is love’ (I John 4:8). You cannot love without loving someone. And since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) relationship is as much part of us as breathing. We cannot live without it.

Yet people with intellectual disabilities are often forced to live with a minimum of relationship. Their humanity is starved. They can turn in on themselves and hate themselves because at a deep level they feel it is their fault. People in Faith and Light have heard of disabled people who cannot look at themselves in a mirror. It is too painful. And we have heard of parents who ‘hide’ their disabled children by locking them in a back room of their house. Other forms of poverty a person can work their way out of. But this form needs the help of those who have a compassionate heart that hears the word of Jesus, ‘go!’      

How does it work?
The simple answer to ‘how does Faith and Light work?’ is by relating, by offering friendship. To do this we set up simple structures which enable us – the friends of the disabled people – to meet them at a level that goes beyond food and drink and entertainment. These are important as the Shona saying goes, ‘ukama igasva …’ but food and entertainment are not ultimately what disabled people want. They want friendship.
All of us in Faith and Light have had experience of disabled people saying, not necessarily in words, ‘will you be my friend? Are you going to care for me enough that you will come to see me regularly? Are you going to sit by me and, if I cannot talk, look at me and just be with me? It will make all the difference to me if I have a friend who cares for me.’

So we set up times and places, normally about once a month, where we meet with the disabled people and their parents. The ideal ‘community’ is where there are about ten disabled, ten parents and ten friends, often young people. But, of course, these numbers are only a guide. The meeting has to be planned – where, when, contacting people, the programme, the food and drink, the games, the activities, the prayer – and so we have a ‘core’ group of four or five people who meet some time before the Faith and Light meeting. When we started Faith and Light in Zimbabwe in 1984 we were astonished by what we discovered. People with disabilities suddenly, perhaps for the first time in their lives, came out of their shell. They came alive and we rejoiced to be part of this discovery; how we can give life to people. Gamuchirai (now late) was a 13 year old girl in Kwekwe who had a terrible life before she came to Faith and Light. Those of us who were there the day she came and did cartwheels across the floor will never forget her.

So the communities of Faith and Light, which are now all over the world, have no walls, no place to call their own (Luke 9:58), no budget, no paid staff. But they are communities of action, obeying the word of Jesus, ‘go!’ They are held together not by membership cards or qualifications but by bonds of friendship. You do not retire from Faith and Light just as you do not retire from friendship. These are now ‘my people’ (Ruth 1:16) and one of the ways we have discovered in Faith and Light is to follow up the meetings with visits to the homes of the disabled. Their parents are sometimes overwhelmed to discover that, ‘you have come to visit my son, my daughter, not as a social worker, not because you have to as part of your job, but you come as a friend, one who cares for my child.’ This can be overwhelming for a parent and it can help them to see their child in a new light.

In Zimbabwe, we have communities of Faith and Light in many of our cities and towns and we have coordinators in both the north and the south of the country. Their names and contact details are given below. Faith and Light started in 1971 in the pilgrimage centre of Lourdes in France. A family had tried to take their disabled son there but people had said he will ‘make too much noise.’ In their sadness the parents turned to a French lady, called Marie Hélène Mattieu, and the founder of the l’Arche communities for people with disabilities, Jean Vanier, a Canadian, and together with their friends they organised a pilgrimage of twelve thousand people from all over the world: four thousand disabled, four thousand parents and the same number of friends. The police turned out thinking there would be chaos but they were met with an explosion of joy as they all celebrated the days of Holy Week and Easter. The police went home and Faith and Light was born.  

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