There’s always a lot of noise about what’s wrong with the world; disgruntled and hurting people, legitimate and non-legitimate complaints and offenses. But I was taught that if you’re going to complain, you’d better roll your sleeves up and be a part of the solution. Perhaps that’s because my mother is a clinical psychologist and Professor, working in the field of disability. In 2011, I was honored to work with my mother on the research team for The National Disability Insurance Scheme, a $4 billion dollar Australian project to redress current funding inequity, and improve everyday lives of people living with a disability. Previously, I was a part-time academic, part-time pastor overseeing the creative arts department of a medium-sized local church. One thing I found unexpected, and even astounding, was how many unprompted comments about human spirituality I received from families I talked to. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it. I guess in my time as a pastor, I’d never intentionally sat down and listened to multiple stories of people physically prevented from getting into the church building, or ways in which these people experience God. I found out that difficulty accessing buildings often didn’t equate to a lack of faith or even involvement; these people had profound observations about worship services (and what they communicated to people like themselves). These anonymous conversations inspired many of the songs on my solo album ‘Grace’, released in 2012.
A couple of months ago while in Los Angeles working on my PhD I found myself reflecting upon this experience. I put up a Facebook post that I wanted to find a Christian organization doing some good in regards to disability. A friend, Professor Paul Neeley, read it, and responded in an email that simply amazed me. He pointed me to Women of Hope International. If I had begun to experience compassion for Australians living with disability, it completely broke my heart to see the beautiful faces of those living with disability in the resource-limited nation of Sierra Leone. Women of Hope made visible people who were completely invisible in our air-brushed, image conscious world. We don’t often actually see people with disability, but these images bestowed such honor and dignity upon women! Their aim is not to “rescue” people with disability, but help them make a unique, valuable contribution to society. Often, this happens through access to devices such as prosthetics, or working out what someone can do, and providing training for employment and enterprise. But more often, due to the rejection and ostracism these women faith, this has more usually meant a place of acceptance and love, motivated for these workers in the acceptance and love they’ve found in their deep faith. Kelsey, one of the founders says “God … actually loves [these women] and has good plans for them IN and THROUGH their disability. When they discover and learn to believe that they are not cursed, that God is not angry with them, and that He can use even their disability for their good, His glory and the benefit of those around them – it literally transforms them almost before your eyes”. Wow.
I thought for a long time about how I could help – as an international student, I don’t have a lot of financial resources. But, as a worshiper I know God asks so much more than just singing from us. I love the words of this scripture, Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
I finally realized I could just use what I do have in my hands, and help make these strong, beautiful women more visible. If you are a worship pastor or leader, I believe you could too. Church is not just entertainment, it is an opportunity to build community. Definitions of community abound, but the words ‘common’, ‘shared’, ‘together’, ‘unified’ are often used. One way we can build togetherness is developing common awareness about community issues, and connecting together to help practically both in our local area – but also globally. The worship service is a window into our world seen through God’s eyes – and it gives us a chance to respond in prayer and reimagine our world in the power of God’s Spirit. The bible has a phrase often written about Jesus; “he saw, and was filled with compassion”. This phrase is usually followed by a miracle – a person’s life being changed, healed, made complete. Compassion is a particular emotion that inspires healing action. I believe worship pastors and leaders can help teach compassion.
We talk and sing a lot about blessing in the Western church, but we usually only mean it for ourselves. Focusing upon our own blessing (or lack of) just builds entitlement in us – instead, each worship service is an opportunity to realize how blessed we are already, and to pray for those less fortunate than ourselves. Each service is an opportunity to practice compassion.
Trevor Hodge and I wrote the song “For Those” based in The Beatitudes, found in Matthew 5. I think the bridge lyric sums it up for me:
“We will sing and believe, turn our hearts to such as these”
Sung prayer is powerful, and effective. So, I hope this video inspires you to think of ways your own local community can pray for blessing upon women living with disability in Sierra Leone, the workers of Women of Hope International and other people who are currently invisible to your church.
Here is a link to the video so you can sing along with us:
And, if your community is blessed with financial resource, Women of Hope are raising money for their Hope Center, and I would be SO, SO excited if this video led some people to support this venture! There are many ways to practically do that on the website… to give, hold parties to sell WOHI products, host information sessions… let’s get the word out there about this fantastic organization and what it does!!