East Africa (MNN) — Early explorers once called the “Dark Continent” thanks to its mystery. Now, a different kind of darkness remains for Africa’s 80 million people currently living with disabilities. So-called “handicaps” like deafness and physical impairments carry a heavy stigma in East Africa.
“Some crippled people in [a] community, the families actually put the child in a barn with the animals until he dies,” shares Dean Vander Mey of Set Free Ministries.
Robert faced a fate like that before he was set free.
“His whole foot was facing backwards, and the other leg was crippled, so he just dragged himself in the dust. That was Robert.”
In the early 2000’s, Set Free partnered with local believers to start boarding schools for AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children in East Africa. Learn more here. Vander Mey first encountered Robert while visiting one of the newly-constructed schools.
“He (Robert) would crawl in the dust, it was sad!” Vander Mey recalls. “He broke his leg when he was, maybe, three and it bent backwards….
“When you have that (a physical infirmity) in Africa, the community casts you out. They reject you.”
Throughout the continent, underdeveloped infrastructure and widespread governmental corruption results in a lack of funding and opportunity for disabled youth. Only 10 percent of disabled children attend school as a result. Conditions don’t improve with time; only about 20 percent of disabled adults find employment.
Although Robert’s condition was reversible, he was destined for a life of dust and disability because society saw him as “broken” and useless. Today, “Robert is the smartest kid in his class; he’s the valedictorian,” shares Vander Mey.
“Who would’ve known? If you would’ve let that kid have his crippled legs, he would probably be dead now because the society throws him out.”
On Vander Mey’s next visit to the school, he was accompanied by Frank*, a long-time supporter of Set Free Ministries. Frank wanted to see first-hand the schools and programs he supported. Little did he know, God was about to use him to change a life forever.
“He saw Robert, one day, crawling in the dust,” recalls Vander Mey. “His heart was touched and he said, ‘Can we help that young boy? Let’s find surgeons; let’s find help for him.’”
Frank partnered with Set Free to send Robert to a surgeon who lived approximately 200 miles away. Robert lived with the surgeon while undergoing several corrective surgeries and rehabilitative therapy.
“This past trip, I’m in a school…and there’s Robert,” says Vander Mey. “He’s grinning from ear-to-ear and I said, ‘Robert, can you walk?’ He jumped to his feet and he came to me, shook my hand. Everyone was clapping.”
More important than his physical healing, Robert found hope and salvation in Christ.
“’I will lift you out of the pit. I will lift you out of the miry clay. I will set your feet upon a rock.’ That’s the Gospel,” says Vander Mey, referencing Psalm 40.
“Robert’s picked out of the miry clay, picked out of the dust, and he gets to know who Jesus is…He’s the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief, despised and rejected.”
To Vander Mey, Robert’s story is yet another example of our Savior’s love for the outcast.
“In God’s Kingdom, everything’s ‘upside-down,’” he explains. “Look throughout Scripture at the people God chose…Gideon…David…Joseph…
“We get to watch Scripture played out in 2018. We’re watching it happen.”
By supporting Set Free’s work in East Africa, you can help more kids like Robert meet the God of all comfort. Visit Set Free’s website to learn more.
*— Name changed.