Message from the President: Some Lessons From Summer Travels

I just returned from a month of international travel that I would like to report on briefly here. It included time in Netherlands, Ukraine and Uganda.

I just returned from a month of international travel that I would like to report on briefly here. It included time in Netherlands, Ukraine and Uganda.

In Netherlands, we attended the European Society for the Study of Theology and Disability (ESSTD) conference hosted perfectly by Dr. Hans Reinders. The quality of presentations surpassed the previous society meeting I attended 4 years ago and was just excellent, featuring many well respected presenters from the US and Europe. The fellowship among attendees was equally stimulating and delightful! This is a conference held every two years, that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in a Christian perspective on theology and disability.

I then went to Ukraine where my wife, Kathi, and I trained Ukranian pastors about issues of theology and disability. This training included a description of the social consequences of disability, growing out of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger’s 18 wounds which are a critical aspect of social role valorization theory. Anyone attempting to help people understand the experience of disability should draw on this work. I have now presented the material in Netherlands, Ukraine, Serbia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and the US, and in spite of the wide variety of cultures represented, attendees resonate with the material. Individuals experiencing disabilities in each of these places also relate that the wounds provide a fair representation of their life experience.

In Uganda, there was the opportunity to participate in a variety of trainings for university students including a law conference at Uganda Christian University. Uganda is in a unique position of having many excellently crafted laws that are not being enacted or applied. One judge in reviewing a case related to the rights of a person with disabilities indicated that the statutes were more “aspirations” then laws. Conference speakers in their frustration wondered aloud whether the only solution is for persons with disabilities to begin to sue government and private agents who are not providing access, or limiting the rights of people because of their disabilities to enforce the laws on their books. We were very impressed by the advocates, professors and experts in country there. Uganda holds significant promise to be quite strategic in setting the standard for best practices in Eastern Africa. Four universities with which we worked were all very interested in the development of programs for students in special education, disability advocacy and theology and disability. What was lacking, was sufficient professors able to develop programs and provide training, and physical materials (books and other training materials) that could be used to aid in program development. We were impressed by the Ugandan students we had the privilege to train, many of whom had disabilities themselves. The training assisted them to “connect the dots” between their experience, their theology, and what next steps might be for them as advocates, teachers and religious leaders. We left with great hope for the future!


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