BY HANNAH RAY, GRACE ATTENDER
For the past four years, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Ukraine and volunteer for a summer camp for children with disabilities, led by Grace’s partner Mission to Ukraine. This organization works tirelessly to reverse the isolation felt by many families affected by disability through their medical clinic, therapy, education, and the "Good Mansion" summer camps.
At Good Mansion camp, days are filled with games, Bible teachings, small groups, crafts, lots of dancing, and plenty of smiles and laughs. I've heard many people, including myself, describe camp as "Heaven on Earth." It is the place where I witness the Holy Spirit move in bold ways that I have not seen anywhere else.
However, despite all of the goodness and love I have witnessed in Ukraine, I have seen just as much pain and injustice. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, individuals with disabilities and their families are often ostracized. It was only 27 years ago that Ukraine earned their independence, leaving the older generations with a utilitarian mindset. Meaning, the function a person serves in society determines their worth. Those whom society categorized as "disabled" were cast out. I have heard stories and met people with a disability who were put in the top floors of apartment buildings without elevators in order to keep them out of sight. I have spoken with mothers who have told me that other people have told her that her child was born this way because of a sin she committed. And I have relationships with people who are more than capable of living independently and flourishing but instead have been institutionalized because of a minor disability. These thoughts are difficult to sit with but are the reasons I continue to go back to Ukraine.
Two of my four years in Ukraine, I have been paired with campers who would be categorized as having a severe or profound disability. These children are unable to walk, talk, feed themselves, and so on. These two hold a special place in my heart and I couldn't explain why before I read Adam's Peace by priest and author, Henri Nouwen. In his writing, Nouwen describes his friend, Adam, whose condition was similar to that of my two campers, "The gift of peace hidden in Adam's utter weakness is a gift not of this world, but certainly for this world...Adam's peace is, first of all, a peace rooted in being. Being is more important than doing. How simple a truth, but how hard to live."
Ability does not determine worth. Rather our shared humanity is what gives each and every person their value. Because while my campers were unable to do certain tasks, they had a special ability for "being." It was in those quiet moments while holding my camper, looking at each other, that I've felt the most connected to another person.
In my sharing, I hope you take away two things. First, my hope for you is that you recognize the immense worth each human being holds. Whether this person is of different ability, economic status, race, religious belief, political belief and the like, they have worth! Secondly, I encourage you to do perhaps the most difficult thing to be asked of. Slow down, quiet yourself, and just be. If anything that you read here spurred something in your heart and made you feel like Ukraine and its people might be something you want to be a part of, I would encourage you to listen to that voice and prayerfully consider joining us on the next Ukraine trip! You won't regret it.