September 9, 2016
Travel Report: Romania (Rise & Walk Association for Persons with Disabilities)
The travel and related assignments for the past several weeks has made it difficult for me to write regular reports. Missing at this time are reports for South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda. Each was insightful and inspirational!! We hope to write a summary report of these in the future.
PICTURES WITH CAPTIONS: https://cincopa.com/~AsPAyt9SHYwB
Short movie clip (good for 14 days): https://cloud.druva.com/home/link/browser?ll=AAAGjwABEzUAAALYuWoVubuZoS-xIa7lCAdVKSh6-Pc%3D
Highlights of the Organization
Most of my work with Special Needs Ministries in the past few years has focused on the work for/with the Deaf. With my now expanded responsibilities (extended to also include those with physical, mental disabilities and orphans) I looked for places where a ministry for those with disabilities was in place. I found one in the Euro-Africa Division and specifically in Romania. I altered my personal schedule to accept the invitation to attend. I had first visited the church of Pastor George Uba in Bucharest about three years ago – at that time I even referred to it as the “wheelchair church.” What I did not seem to realize at the time was that from this central church 20 branch groups of an association were to form and be organized into what is called “Rise and Walk Association for Persons with Disabilities.” The membership of the Association has grown to 3000 with 1500 volunteers all in Romania. While organized and sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the association is open to all faiths including those who may not have a religious life at all. While it refers to itself as a “non-confessional” church, the Adventist pastor and his team of Adventist leaders coordinate an adapted Sabbath School, sharing of Christian sharing, prayer, singing, Christian poetry, mission offering, evangelism and seminars to help meet spiritual needs on Sabbaths. Branch, also called subsidiary, meetings occur monthly on Sundays. Every effort is made to identify with persons who have disabilities and then recruit them to be part of this ministry and service to the community. Pastor Uba has been interviewed multiple times by the press as this ministry speaks to the needs of the wider community.
My Experience, My Observations
What I attended was a “camp” held on the grounds of our former seminary in Romania. This provided inexpensive lodging, cafeteria, recreational/social rooms and a large meeting hall. I went although I was asked to speak three different times. I saw my role, however, as insignificant. I went observe and learn and I did.
I arrived a few days after the camp had begun. Paralympics were underway. There was archery and wheelchair racing – some motorized and some not. While there was a sense of competition the real focus was on participation. It was a fun time, social time and a team-building time. Social interaction is a vital part of the whole event.
There were a number of blind in attendance. I especially remember the hour and a half that I spent with Camelia who is blind. During an excursion trip we had some slack time. Knowing that she liked to walk I offer to lead her on a walk. It was an amazing experience for me and the most time I had ever spent one-on-one with a blind person. I had done some reading as how best to help a blind person but this was the real thing. Informing her of uneven ground and obstacles were expected. What wasn’t expected was when she asked what color the sky was and how tall were the mountains. She described colors with music – bright colors and more dull colors were compared to major and minor keys. I directed her hand to the top of the mountain so she could sense the heights of large mountains surrounding us. She heard things that I dismissed as insignificant but she drew meaning out of them that I overlooked. Her sense of smell was amazing. We found fir trees and twisted the branches to get the scent only to discover that some firs have a stronger scent than others. I discovered her passion to be involved in ministry. She asked how she could become more involved. She is very articulate and offered to translate materials I have from English into Romanian. She willing accepted to translate some materials I have for the Deaf into Romanian. On another day I was introduced to another blind lady who had asked to visit with me. Her husband had been killed in an accident leaving her with the care of her daughter. Her request was simple but ardent: How can I become involved in a some kind of ministry? Over and over again people attending this Association asked how they could help others. I don’t remember hearing them complaining about what others were not doing for them! The issue of “rights” of those who are disabled was never discussed with me. Nevertheless, I do believe we as a church and as a society must address some serious needs. My sense of my own responsibility grew each day I was there.
I know some complain about the length of my travel reports, so if that’s your case then by all means stop reading. J But I must tell you about the person with Down Syndrome. As often is the case they are some of kindest and caring people you will ever meet. They are also very sensitive. You will see the picture of one such person. He appointed himself to lead the music whenever there was music. What really got to me was when I observed him crying when he heard the words “Blessed Assurance.” Can you imagine how he will respond when Jesus comes! His heartfelt assurance will come in ways that far exceeds his understanding . . . or perhaps his understanding actually supersedes my own! Over and over again I had to ask myself while in this group – who really is the teacher? Them or me. It clearly was them.
Balloons and More Balloons
The Association and those with disabilities are not without moral convictions. Transporting about 150 individuals, many in wheelchairs, to the city square of Brasov was no easy task. Crippled, some without legs and others without the use of legs or arms, boarded two large buses and two additional vans and headed for town. Once there, the filling of balloons took place. Then with felt pens, the words “Thanks for Existing” were written on the balloons in Romanian. In many societies today, babies and adults who have serious disabilities are given less value and in many cases babies are aborted. Hitler “exterminated” 270,000 disabled individuals. Can you imagine the impact of seeing “an army” of disabled individuals thanking individuals of a community for the privilege of existing! Who could raise the moral conscience more clearly than they?
After a stimulating Sabbath School and church program, the community was invited to the Saturday night program. The program consisted of personal testimony, music and poetry readings and spiritual challenge. I was asked to share my vision for the global ministry for those with disabilities. I was followed, and more importantly, Pastor Uba sharing his own vision for the Association. The evening meeting was an amazing climax for the camp.