Senate President challenges Adventists
MIAMI, Florida (IAD) — President of the Jamaican Senate Floyd Morris has challenged the Seventh-day Adventist Church to be more accommodating to persons with disabilities and to include them in the organisation's leadership and decision-making structures.
"Don't just carry them and place them in the pews, let us get them involved in the decision-making process of the church," Senator Morris said.
He was speaking at a three-day Special Needs Ministry Summit at the church's Miami headquarters held recently. He said, too, that providing physical infrastruture such as access ramps and specially outfitted restrooms was key to, as is appropriate education awareness in churches, schools and other church-operated institutions.
"God is saying to all of us in modern-day society to open doors and break down barriers, empower and include those with disabilities (within our church) in all affairs of the church," said Senator Morris, who lost his
sight in his 20s.
"While the mission of the church is to win souls for the kingdom, we have a tremendous task to ensure that we cater to the needs of the most vulnerable of our society, including persons with disabilities, just like Jesus did during his ministry on earth," Morris continued.
Top IAD administrators backed Morris, saying in fact that bringing that level of awareness to the membership was the purpose of the summit.
Pastor Samuel Telemaque, associate director of Personal Ministries and Sabbath School for the church in Inter-America and organiser of the event said: "It is this initial awareness -- ensuring that persons with disabilities and their families are welcomed and cared for in local congregations -- that is an important step and one reason to hold the special needs ministry summit."
His colleague, Pastor Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America added: "As Christian leaders and organisation workers, we must recognise persons with disabilities. Even though people are not how we are, we must open the church for them."
But awareness is going to take a fundamental change of mind, Senator Morris acknowledged.
"The focus is for us to place emphasis on the rights of the person with a disability and the capacity of that individual to develop him or herself," he said.
Senator Morris also called on church administrators and summit leaders to reach out to persons with disabilities through the work of Adventist Development and Relief Agency and the various ministries of the church to ensure special needs people can be involved with ministries in the community.
Morris made history in Jamaica's Parliament when he became the first visually impaired person to be appointed President of the Jamaican Senate, the Upper House of the Parliament. He is a member of Andrews Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in St Andrew and is well known for his fight for the disabled community.
In addition to general awareness building, the summit, which was the first of its kind in the division, focused on ways of ministering to the impaired, a historically neglected group. It highlighted the seven major special needs --cognitive, hearing, hidden, mobility, psychiatric, speech, and visual impairments.
"The division recognises the need to be more inclusive, to identify the various needs in the church, to treat each person as God's property," Telemaque continued. "It was important to hold this summit to reach a level of awareness of the special needs within the church and its community."
"The challenge is clear. Providing resources and empowering the 50,000-plus Sabbath school teachers across the Division territory can begin as soon as leaders and members unite in engaging in the special needs ministries. This summit gives shape to the birth of this much-needed ministry in our church," he affirmed.
Pastor Larry Evans, liaison for International Deaf Ministries for the Adventist world church, said that the special needs ministry is a concept that the church organisation must recognise and "if we don't recognise this ministry, we are missing out".
"Think of persons with disability as a culture," said Evans. "How do persons with disability view life? Think culture rather than disability." He, too, challenged leaders to allow the deaf to be part of the leadership circle of
the church and to help implement strategies.
Pastor Telemaque added: "We will concentrate on assessing the needs within our churches and our communities in terms of classification, and teach our membership to be more inclusive and proceed to strengthen the ministries that integrate persons with disabilities."
The Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, which comprises Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, The French Antilles as well as Venezuela and Colombia, has approximately 80 million people living with disabilities.