TRA Wordtalks

TRA Episode 43/00
December 17th, 2000
"Ability, Not Disability"

Galatians 2:1-2

Japan and Korea have packed concert halls whenever 15 year old Hee-Ah Lee gives a three hour classical concert. Regarded as a brilliant pianist, she is in Australia for a series of concerts. She was born without legs and has two fingers only on each hand! Her playing of the most complicated concert works is applauded everywhere. After giving a two hour concert broadcast on the ABC, Hee-Ah Lee came to Wesley Theatre tonight and played in our service which features the theme "Ability Not Disability". She is an absolutely beautiful example of my theme. 


1:5 Australians suffer some disability. Disability mostly involves impairment to sight or hearing. More serious physical, mental or emotional disability restricts the lives of others. Yet what is important is not your disability, but your ability. Yet most people see only the disability, not the person's ability. Many people look at Tim Matthews and see that he has only one leg. But this one legged Australian sprinter Tim Mathews, runs the 100 metres in 10.87 seconds. Had he competed in the Olympic Women's 100 metres final in that time, he would have beaten every female sprinter in the world except Gold Medalist Marion Jones and won a silver medal! It is that kind of performance and ability that will make the Paralympics! 

The ancient world had no time for the disabled. They were left to beg or die. The Romans frequently used them as objects of amusement to be torn to pieces by wild dogs in the ampitheatre or Colosseum. In some countries today they would be abandoned. 

Sixty years ago, Adolf Hitler used the disabled in medical experiments inflicting gross and continuous pain. Disabled children had their legs broken again and again to measure the time taken for bones to heal. It takes something like the Paralympics to turn our focus from a person's disability to their ability. 

Wesley Mission Sydney is a major provider of services to the disabled. Our aim is to ensure people with disabilities are valued, accepted and enabled to grow. Our vision is to be a leading provider of services empowering people with disabilities to reach full potential in the community. Last year we spent $10 million supporting the disabled. All Wesley Disability Support Services conform to the Disability Service Standards and are accredited quality services through ISO 9002. 

"Breakaway" Children's Respite Service supports families and carers of children with a disability by providing regular away-from-home, quality care. Respite is one of a range of professional services available to maximise opportunities for each child. During the past year, "Breakaway" provided respite to 52 disabled children, aged between 5 and 18. Faced with an immense demand for school holiday activities, "Breakaway" operated a recreation program during the 1999 Easter school vacation for more than 50 children. 
Wesley Life Skills is for those disabled who want work as a goal. We identify areas where people with disabilities have the same work opportunities and knowledge as their peers. The total number of clients increased to 98, with 12 new people joining our eight existing services. 
Wesley Disability Accommodation Service provides 24-hour accommodation support for 32 people with high support needs. These people reside in "group homes". We opened three new services at a cost of $1.5 million in June 2000. 
Wesley Residential Service helps 31 people with disabilities determine their future, to live independently and be included in their community. We provide training and expansion of their social networks. 
David Morgan Enterprises provides supported employment for over 100 people with disabilities. Our commitment is to provide effective, commercially viable employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Our activities comply with all commercial, trading, OH&S regulations and 11 Service Standards laid down by the Department of Family and Community Services. Our business activities included contract packaging, garden services, leisure furniture manufacturing, laundry services and employee placement. We were the people that packed over three million items for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic Games. Our businesses are buoyant. 
Goodwill Laundry Service increased sales 48% last year. Our Complete Garden Services increased by 59%. Wesley Industries which supports employment of disabled business employs more than 30 people. 
The Lottie Stewart Hospital provides total services to scores of profoundly disabled people, many of whom are paraplegic and quadraplegic and all of whom are wheelchair bound. 
Wesley Mission focuses on the abilities, achievements and talents of people with disabilities rather than on their disabilities. We think ability not disability. 


"With Paul at the Games" we have examined his use of phrases with the sporting connotations that were witnessed by the people of Corinth at the Pan Isthmian Games, which were held there when Paul was living in Corinth, during 50-51 AD.. But Paul also understood living with disability. He was an amazingly tough and courageous man. Many would not consider Paul suffered from a severe disability. For, unlike many of us, he rarely mentions his problems! So rare are the instances, we have to piece them together to reconstruct what his disability was! Follow these verses: 

When his scribe had finished writing on the parchment his dictated letter, Paul would take up the pen and write a conclusion to personally authenticate the letter. At the end of a letter to the churches in Galatia, (Central Turkey) he exclaims with some surprise: Gal 6:11 "See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!" Paul may have written such large letters due to poor eye sight. This could be his disability he refers to as simply his "thorn in the flesh" 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." While this does not point to his eyesight, note another passage leads me to thinking it was poor eyesight which caused him such heartache. What a disability for a traveling preacher, writer and church planter to have limited sight. 

Galatians 4: 13-15 "As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." What wonderful concern they had: "if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me." But Paul persisted. He did not let his disability restrict his ministry. He used his ability to proclaim and write the Gospel and to establish new churches throughout the known world. It doing so, he became a role model to Christians with disabilities ever since. 


The psychiatrist Dr Victor Frankl realised that humans had the unique and invaluable ability to choose how things would affect them, no matter what happened to them. Frankl made this discovery while a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp where he was starved and tortured. During this time his parents, brothers and sisters and his wife were all murdered. He discovered that even in the worst of situations, some people kept control of their lives while others succumbed to the forces controlling them. The knowledge that he had both the freedom and power to choose his own response, no matter what atrocities his captors inflicted upon him, was a break-through which helped him and many others to survive the horrors of those times. Here he developed the concept of proactivity. This was in contrast to deterministic behaviour. This is a difference that can make all the difference to any person with a disability. 

Most paralympians have made the choice to be proactive about their disability - that is why they are today champions! Most human psychology this century has been deterministic. That is, our actions, characters and behaviour are determined by external factors: whether genetic (I can't help it, that's the way I was born), environmental (my wife pushed me too far) or psychological (it's because my father was never there for me as a child). There is little choice involved. Is there nothing we can do about our situation? Frankl says there is - you can take responsibility for yourself and choose your response. 

Determinism has more validity for laboratory rats than people. Humans alone have the ability to choose a response to any given stimulus. We can be aware of our own responses, analyse them and exercise our will over them. We also have imagination, conscience, and religious faith that can give us power over our circumstances. These can take us outside and above our present circumstances and allow us to respond differently. People take responsibility for their lives and what happens to them. This responsibility means responding as we choose. Truly proactive people embrace this responsibility. They never blame their situation, environment, conditioning or other people for their behaviour. They choose it themselves, based on their values from their faith not their feelings. 

People who are reactive, on the other hand, are so because they elect to be. If we are governed by colleagues and conditions it means we have, either consciously or by default, empowered those things to control our lives. 

A reactive person dwells on concerns outside their power to control. They increasingly complain, blame and feel victimised. They are negative people. Many of them come into our care to be treated because they cannot get on top of their situation. They believe everything and everybody is against them. 


On the other hand, Christians must positively take control of themselves and their circumstances by God's power. God promises to empower you. The trouble is that many of us do not live our Christian faith. We allow things to determine our destiny. We must learn to be proactive and positive, trusting in God's goodness, guidance and power. We must take control of our own lives. There are some things we just accept: we have some disability for example. There are some things we will not accept: we will not allow this disability to handicap us and stop our achieving. We pray that God will help us discern the one from the other. 

Hence Wesley Mission's children's centres, counselling services, Disabilities Services, and in all other areas where people face their disabilities, are conducted on a Christian basis. For it is by faith in Christ that we live. When we choose him, we choose the way we shall live. Hear the Good News! You do not have to live in a cycle of despair. You do not have to bear the burden of your parents' sin. You do not have to be determined by your environment, genes or up-bringing. You can be you. A new you! A reborn you! Jesus Christ gives you the power to overcome. You can be born a child of God. The cycle can be broken. Instead, you can born again - a new you! Why not accept it? 

Gordon Moyes 2000

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