Sierra Leone (MNN) — All around the world, there are villages and communities with a strong Christian presence. And even though a large percentage of people in these areas have embraced the Gospel, they have a secret. There are individuals hidden in shadows, away from the rest of society, who haven’t heard about Jesus.
We’re referring to people with disabilities. Kim Kargbo is the CEO of Women of Hope International. She says their ministry works in two ways to address the needs of women who have a disability or a child with a disability.
In Sierra Leone, they work directly with these women to bring them empowerment and a renewed sense of self-worth. In the United States, they train ministry leaders to rethink disability and find ways to incorporate individuals affected by a disability into the Body of Christ.
In West Africa, people with disabilities hang out on the margins of society.
Kargbo says, “For people in Sierra Leone — and also really what we find is in most of the developing world — people with disabilities are treated as outcasts because the mentality is that they’re either cursed by God, or they are a demon, or not fully human. So out of that then springs a lot of attitudes and behaviors that affect their life in general and how well they’re integrated or not into community life.”
It’s not uncommon for them to have a low opinion of themselves and their abilities. They feel they have little potential to do something with their life. All too often, they turn to begging. They are identified by their disability and their poverty.
Kargbo has lived in Sierra Leone for many years. She’s seen ministry come and go. Their failure, she says, stems from their focus. In their well-meaning attempts to bring about economic empowerment and help these individuals overcome their disability, they end up missing some of the deeper issues.
“What we do is really start much lower than that and begin to talk to people and educate people on their value. And as the women themselves have begun to change the way they think about themselves and who they are and what their potential is, they begin to act differently.”
She says they begin to take care of themselves — doing simple things like bathing again.
They start to own their dignity and interact with individuals who are without disabilities.
The community starts to take notice, and stigmas and traditions are challenged.
With a renewed sense of value, these women start to see, not only can they do something with their lives, they realize they can help others. And that, Kargbo says, is key.
Equipping the Body
Women of Hope helps women see because they are Image-Bearers of God, they are inherently valued and valuable. They have skills and abilities that are useful and needed within the Body of Christ.
After an individual has started to recognize their value, they can begin to take on other things. Women of Hope is a multi-faceted ministry. They offer education, skills training, parenting classes, literacy training, job assistance, Bible studies, and discipleship groups. In addition, they have a fair trade initiative that helps these women generate an income. They even work with agricultural projects. Another big area of this ministry is advocacy. Not only do they work with Churches in the United States, but they try to educate communities, too.
When asked why they focus on Sierra Leone, Kargbo says,“I figure if something like this can be successful in Sierra Leone where people who are in the very bottom of the economic scale can become productive and can find Christ and begin living out their purpose He has intended for them, then it should be able to work anywhere.”
The World Health Organization says about 15 percent of the world has a disability. Because of the social stigmas that come into play in some areas of the world, Kargbo says we’re talking about the biggest unreached people group there is.
She says, “There’s a lot of talk in missions about unreached people groups and reaching people who have never heard the Gospel. Even among reached people groups, the disabled among them are still unreached because they are so marginalized, so hidden away, and not given access to the information or the resources that the community has access to.”
She encourages us to remember to look past the needs of someone with a disability and see them as God’s valued creation. While it’s important to meet what needs we can, the biggest thing we can do help equip and integrate them into the Body of Christ. Just as any of us, they have a purpose and a function to serve God. In other words, they need to know they can minister to others just as much as they need to be ministered to.