All this week we’ll be sharing insights from our team who’ve travelled over to Kenya for a Church Engagement field visit. In this post, Rob, Church Engagement Coordinator, shares about his first impressions, his inaugural Kenyan church experience and what he’s looking forward to visiting CBM projects and meeting CBM beneficiaries.
I’ve arrived in Nairobi with great expectations. We’re visiting a great range of work by our partners in Nairobi, Kajiado, Kisumu, Kakamega and Kijabe. More about all of those places as the week goes on but we will get to see lots of community based work in urban and rural locations amongst people disadvantage by the combination of poverty and disability.
At CBM Australia we’ve been planning to take church leaders to visit CBM projects for about 4 years! We do understand the impact we can have on our field partners, country and regional offices and so we’re very grateful for the time and effort they have made to welcome us to Kenya. Linda Mwania, my colleague at CBM Australia has made the difference because of her deep knowledge of working with all of these groups and her skills at planning and negotiating such a visit. I’m also excited that we have Rev Dona Spencer from Southport Uniting Church and Wendy Campbell from Paradise Point Uniting Church part of this first church leaders’ field trip.
Our first day served to help us adjust to life in Kenya and connect as a team. Linda’s church in Nairobi, Nairobi Chapel, is an exciting church and very hospitable. I loved the passion of this community and the beauty of the relationships we experienced. The afternoon was different in a number of ways as we visited a local market where we met trade was brisk and sometimes brutal. Fortunately, humour was also found in the midst of commercial negotiations. I was offered all the contents of one stall in exchange for my camera!
After meeting our photographer extraordinaire, Guilio, we met up with Kirsten Bostelmann, CBM Regional Director East Africa, who briefed us on our trip and some important cultural guidelines that would help us not offend those we were visiting. It reminded me of the intrusion we make when we visit people with disabilities and the families and CBM’s partner organisations. They have important work to do and lives to live so we need to tread lightly and understand the privilege this is. Tomorrow we will meet people living in urban poverty and hear their stories.
I’m not sure why I was so taken aback – after all, the conference was labelled ‘Honest Conversations.’ But as I sat and listened, I realised I still have so much to learn about the value of inclusion…
CBM’s Luke14 Honest Conversations conference took place in Melbourne on July 10 and 11. Over two days, more than 100 delegates were propelled into a world of challenging truths and sometimes-confronting situations that encouraged people to share intimate thoughts and feelings about the current state of disability inclusion in Australia’s church communities.
In his opening address, guest speaker Jeff McNair highlighted the ways in which Christian communities often overlooked people with disabilities as valuable and valued participants.
Integration, Jeff championed, was “absolutely critical” to any kind of disability ministry or program – and you “better have a doggone good reason as to why you’re not fully including people if you’re not!”
I could feel people shifting uncomfortably in their seats – I know I was. Our church absolutely includes people with disabilities! I was feeling silently indignant.
We have programs for people with disabilities don’t we? And I’m sure other people here have special programs too that cater specially for people with disabilities.
It was almost as if Jeff had read my mind. Because he continued: “Many ministries are designed, to a lesser or greater degree, to be segregated. These ministries range from churches for people with a disability where those without a disability work within the ‘disabled church’ to serve to segregated ministries, and to programs experiencing varying degrees of separation. But for the church to be the Church, we must acknowledge that segregated ministries send the wrong message.”
It was a powerful message: that true inclusion occurs only when people with disabilities receive the same opportunities and experiences as people without disabilities.
The conversations flowed freely over the two-day conference; people were sharing their deepest and most intimate thoughts, sharing experiences of exclusion and how it made them personally feel, and bonding and learning through some incredible panel discussions and workshops designed to enhance your understanding of disability experience in the church.
Among new-found friends and some fabulous food, I realised that inclusion was about more than just ‘ticking the boxes’. People with disabilities have rights to worship, study the Word and serve others in whichever faith community they choose to do so with full access to and support from their wider community.
Here’s looking to more Honest Conversations next year!