If you were born with a disability or know someone who was, imagine being born in a village where that is considered to be a shameful curse from the spirits—something to hide or get rid of.
In January, I was part of the Cameroon Harvest Project 2007. This was a joint mission of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Joni and Friends International Disabilities Ministry. The purpose was to distribute wheelchairs to people for whom a wheelchair is out of reach, either because they’re not available or are way too expensive.
One of the people we met was a 6-year-old named Sandra. Her story is hard to forget.
When this little girl was born with obvious disabilities, her fearful parents took her to the riverbank and left her—a newborn baby. This was called “returning her to the gods.” After 3 or 4 days of lying there, she was rescued by an old woman. But when the woman was at work every day, she left the small girl, who couldn’t move from the position in which she was placed, closed up in a shed with the chickens. If there was food within reach of her mouth she could eat. She had no ability to move away from her own waste or that of the chickens.
Nungu Magdalene, a Joni and Friends Associate, found the girl when she was about 4. She named her Sandra and took her to the school and home for children with disabilities that Magdalene founded and operates in Santa, near Bamenda. She and her staff pray with her, sing over her, and show her how Christ loves. When people from Sandra’s village see her now, they are amazed at what prayer and Christ-like love has done for her.
On the day our team worked near the school and home, Sandra was tense and apprehensive at first among the unfamiliar people and activities. But among the chairs we had brought was one—just the right size, with the right kind of harness, the right kind of head and trunk support, and with the ability to tilt backward so that Sandra’s head doesn’t flop forward. All our chairs were chosen “randomly” and shipped months ahead of our arrival. But God had prepared beforehand the chair for that one particular little girl in that one particular place on that one particular day. When Sandra knew that the chair was hers, her apprehension was gone.
Sandra is non-verbal and it isn’t clear how much she is able to comprehend. But sometimes even words would be inadequate. When the therapist placed her in her new chair, Sandra’s stunning smile radiated understanding, gratitude and joy.
We were blessed by Sandra, who never was a curse. And we pray that she will indeed be God’s.