Sometimes in life you meet people and you quickly realize that they carry a message that the world desperately needs to hear. Dan is one of those people. He advocates for himself and many others through an organization called “People First.”
He spoke with unfaltering conviction. “Everyone has a disability. You may not be able to see it, you may not be able to tell, but it’s there.” In St. Paul’s, Charlottetown, you could have heard a pin drop. This moment was pivotal in my experience of Poverty Justice Camp 2009.
Personally, I had signed up for the immersion group which was travelling to PEI to meet and explore two organizations that work with and for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The only thing I knew was that I was in for a fantastic week, meeting new people from across Canada, and hearing the stories of those we would meet and interact with along the way. Once we arrived, we learned that we would help to host a community barbeque. Thus, the adventure began.
During our time spent on PEI, we met many people who were willing to share their journeys, stories, and talents with us. We were continually amazed and moved by their openness, courage, and candor. There were people who spoke of addictions, abuse, and a myriad of struggles they face on a day to day basis, striving to live a full, equal, and integrated life. In our small group of travelers, we sat, ate and drank with them. We served them. We spent time with them, and talked with them. Even though a barbeque seemed such a simple gesture, the undertones were unparalleled. The people who attended our barbeque were absolutely elated that we were serving four different homemade salads with chicken legs, when government officials at a barbeque down the road were serving hotdogs. When you care, care intentionally. That we did.
One can never truly appreciate the power of any situation until there is a FACE with which to relate the words. Without a direct link, a story is composed of words alone. It is when there is something tangible, that the human condition begins to connect. Seek to understand. Seek to love without judgment, seek to listen, and walk together.
One of a multitude of lessons learned in all of this was more than simply the need to walk in the shoes of “the other”. Instead of attempting to walk IN someone’s shoes, walk next to them, in your own. Jesus did. Do not underestimate the power of sharing your own story, and knowing when to just ‘be’.
What I have and will continue to take from this experience is renewed focus, renewed vision, and a new outlook. No fear. Abundance. Needs. Lacking. Wealth. Joy. Spirit. Enough. All words and concepts that were challenged, discussed, and redefined in our midst, be it in smaller group during Lectio Divina, on the beach, around the dinner table, or in the moments following programming, while guitars were strummed and as friendships both began and were rekindled. I find myself both overwhelmed and humbled, excited and filled with anticipation, for what the future of the church can be, and the impact we can make in the here and now, knowing God has provided all of the tools we need. Compassion, mouths with which to advocate for justice, listening ears, and open hearts.
Finally, I return to the powerful words which resonated with me, as well as the rest of my immersion group. “Everyone has a disability.” A member of our group reflecting on this, asked, “In what ways are we unable?” I challenge you to reflect upon this, in your personal lives, and as members of the wider Christian community. I’m willing and ready to be fully able, and to assist in enabling others through Christ. Are you?