In October, Matt Kennedy, pastor of Dillman Church (Warren, Ind.), spent two weeks in Ethiopia with Joni & Friends International and Christian Horizons Global. The team taught pastors and church planters how to minister to families and individuals with special needs. This trip was particularly meaningful to Matt because he and his wife, Jennifer, have a daughter with autism.
The team visited the cities of Asella, Hawassa, and Addis, conducting several days of disability ministry training with national church planters.
They were so blessed by the pastors’ desire to reach out to people with disabilities. The pastors desired not just to care for people with disabilities, but to empower those effected by disability to serve in the church.
The Ethiopian model churches are training people who are blind and deaf to serve in their churches. Repeatedly, the pastors said that this training had been beneficial in changing their attitudes toward people with disabilities.
One highlight for the team was making home visits to families impacted by special needs. This was such a blessing to those families, since the Ethiopian culture views disability as a curse or the result of parental sin being visited upon the children. They never hear that God loves them and views them as beautiful. They do not have people give them gifts and pray for them. Rejection and isolation is the common response to those with disability.
On the last day of the trip, the team visited the Center for Mentally Challenged Children. This program began in 1986 as a ministry of the Ethiopia Evangelical Church Mekena Yesus. It started with one child and now serves over 360 children and young adults. The team was deeply moved by the staff and their loving care and professional skills.
Through the Early Intervention program, parents are learning how to provide care at home and are seeing how much their children can learn. Their vision is to train their staff, who then transfer that knowledge to the parents. The Center brings disability awareness to the community and local churches.