There are over 650 million people living in the world with a disability. And yet, according to Prabhu and Nancy Rayan who recently visited Australia, the majority of them are not being reached by the gospel.
The Rayans, an Indian missionary couple, founded the International Fellowship for the Handicapped 22 years ago in India and now oversee 35 programs throughout the developing world. "Because Hindus believe in reincarnation, they perceive disability as being a result of sin in the previous life, therefore creating a negative stigma around people with a disability. As a result some families try to hide away anyone with a disability - they can be totally isolated," the Rayans said.
However, the Rayans are also critical of the Christian attitude to people with disabilities. "When the Christian missionaries came to India they set up institutions for people with disabilities. They might have been able to go to church but they were not involved. They were once again segregated from the rest of the community," they said.
The Rayans say that condescending attitudes form the biggest barrier to their equal participation in the body of Christ. Ministry to people with disabilities must start with relationships, not charity. In all they do, the Rayans point to the example of Jesus and his interactions with people with disabilities.
By Amy Butler