Have you ever seen a child take its first steps? Those wobbly, wide-eyed, arms-in-the-air steps that propel them from babyhood into the rest of their life? Imagine being a young parent in Beni, cautiously watching your first child take their first steps on the swept-clean dirt floor of your cement-brick home. The wonder, terror, excitement of the moment…except for these parents, their child isn’t a baby, or even a toddler anymore. He’s three and a half, and just now taking his first steps. Young Amini* (name changed to protect his privacy) was born with weak muscles and loose joints which cause him to have multiple developmental delays. His parents, Papa Paluku (a motorcycle taxi driver) and Mama Amini (a road construction worker), were advised to send him to physical therapy when he was younger, but it became a financial burden to keep up, so they stopped. But they never stopped praying for his healing, and they never gave up hope.
About a year ago, a small team from Bethesda Counseling Center heard of Amini’s needs and visited his family. At that time, he could barely sit up. A few months later, after learning of multiple other children in similar situations, Bethesda began a support group for caregivers of children and young people with special needs. Here at Bethesda, we believe that hope and healing happens in community, and to this end, we hold many on-going support groups for vulnerable individuals; but this particular one is a new thing. In this region of the world, individuals with special needs are often dismissed by their community as worthless, or worse, cursed, typically cast out or shut up. Trained medical professionals and outside supports are scant, so when mothers, fathers, uncles and grandmas were invited to the center on behalf of their special children, they realized, maybe for the first time in their life, “I am not alone!”. Not only did Amini’s parents learn there are others who share similar challenges, they now have a team of friends to work towards solutions with!
In order to make this group a sustainable reality, Bethesda pulled on everybody’s knowledge. We asked a Justice Initiative (CI) lawyer to share with us about DRC’s human rights laws. We asked our UCBC alumni friend at ABC School what she knew about how children learn. We asked our own psychologist to explain how disability affects the whole family. Week after week, Amini came with his parents and we watched him wobble on all fours, never quite making it to his feet.
So when, a few months later, Amini himself came walking through Bethesda’s gate, we were amazed! The look of triumph on his face and pride on his mama’s said it all. Even our dedicated security guard and groundskeeper were singing with joy. Amini is walking! We are humbled to think that through what we offered his parents in the weekly gatherings, Bethesda played a small part in this victory. We look ahead to more victories, for Amini and for others, and expect many challenges, too. But we also know that together, we are taking steps, however wobbly, towards this hope and healing we all seek. “…And a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).”