This was the title of our conference in Vienna October 9th- 12th,
it was a joint effort, organized by the European Disability Network and the Austrian Evangelical Alliance's sub-committee "Christians and Disabilities".
The aim of the conference was to develop a vision for the church
of Jesus Christ in which there is a place for everyone including those with disabilities.
from churches and Christian organizations across 10 European countries
met together, representing Germany, Austria, Belgium, Serbia, Croatia, Ukraine, Norway, Romania, Spain and Latvia.
Many visitors had no German, some didn't speak English, others were not able to see or hear. Several participants needed simple language in order to understand and some arrived with a wheelchair. How could people with such a variety of conditions
take part in the event? At first glance it might seem an attractive option to avoid the challenge by pretending that people with disabilities ‘is not my area of care’. However, God has a different viewpoint – He considers that everyone is worth the effort. It may not be easy, but it is a challenge we must rise to.
On Sunday Dr Fellinger from Linz
was our speaker at the church service. He has the amazing gift of being able to preach and draw
at the same time, creating images that display his meaning visually. His sermon was translated into English and the resulting images described for all who could not see. In one group English was translated into Russian, in another, into Spanish. At the same time everything was translated into Austrian sign language, so that deaf people could understand everything as well.
Through lectures and seminars
we discussed how to develop an All-Inclusive culture, and what each of us individually can do to challenge wrong thinking, prejudice and unbiblical attitudes. What does the Bible say about disability – people’s weaknesses and limitations? How do Christians change their attitude - often a bigger obstacle then an inaccessible environment? What can we do to welcome people with and without disabilities in the church and help them to respond to the call of God for God’s glory?
In the Word of God
we find full justification for bringing the message of Christ to people with disabilities in ways they can perceive and understand. According to the Great Commission, Christians have to search for all those who are outside the family of God because the house of God has to be full.
“Then the master told his servant,
‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in,
so that my house will be full’.” (Luke 14:23)
Christians’ ignorance, prejudice, unwillingness or fear must not hinder people with disabilities to acquire “life, and life in abundance” in Christ. (John 10:10)
By sharing the message of the word of God and personal experience, participants of the conference encouraged each other to continue ministering
in their society to expand God’s vision for a church that welcomes everybody. In this vision
1) people with disabilities get to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour;
2) the church equally welcomes people with or without disabilities;
3) people with disabilities share their faith in church and society;
4) the church becomes a better place for everyone.
show that in most populations 10-15% of people are disabled
in some way. What would that mean for church? Children's groups would quite naturally expect to have a percentage of disabled children. Every other church group and activity would expect and plan to include disabled people. Effective inclusion means noticing each other’s needs, giving support, looking for creative solutions and making sure that disabled people are fully involved.
During the meeting there was not always someone there who could translate
into sign language. At this point volunteers typed into a laptop, the words being projected onto a screen. Others wrote by hand on a notepad for their deaf friend. Everyone benefits when a culture of awareness and support is encouraged so that no-one is left out. In a video message of greeting on the opening night Joni Erickson Tada
affirmed how compelling a truly inclusive community is. When people in our society see such a gathering, they cannot help being attracted to it.
Please consider to support us
with your prayers and finances. Thank you so much!
Conference photos you can see here.
November 2015 EDN steering group:
Martina Köninger, Tony Phelps Jones,
Markus Fiala, Thérèse Swinters