Training in Malawi
By TTR Trustee, John Naudé
In the summer Belinda, Samuel and I (and another couple from church) went to Malawi with a missionary organisation called Emmanuel International for the first time. Belinda and I led the training on leadership and discipleship to church elders. Being a wheelchair user AND a pastor of a church is something that the people in Malawi certainly didn't seem used to, however they were very receptive to what we had to teach. It seemed the 'status' of being a pastor far outweighed any negative messages of being disabled. Wherever we went I was followed by children who seemed fascinated by my lightweight wheelchair.
The issue of disability in Malawi is something that is hidden. The number of people I saw with a visual disability was very few. I think I saw 3 people in wheelchairs in the 3 weeks we were there. I perceived that disabled people are generally kept at home and not seen as people with something to contribute to society. Malawi’s physical environment is not very suitable for wheelchair users and although I managed to access all venues - it was only through the help of friends and a bit of creative thinking that we managed to access everywhere. At one point there was a large gulley with a plank of wood across it for people to walk across. They found some extra wood and managed to tie various bits of wood together for me to push across. It wasn't a 'safe' bridge across with level and very stable bits of wood, but they had gone to great effort to enable me to cross. Thankfully, with my own wheelchair skills and a fair few prayers quickly offered up, I managed to cross it several times a day.
I had been mentally prepared for the changes to my usual routine and wheelchair-friendly environment but by the end of the three weeks I was physically very tired.
The most memorable part of the trip was seeing God's faithfulness in the protection and provision for our family and seeing Him at work in the lives of the people. The country was also a lot greener than I had imagined, but like most places the thing that sticks out is not the scenery but the people. They were a wonderfully generous and hospitable people.
The most difficult element of my time there was pushing my wheelchair on soft sandy terrain, to then have the hard uneven terrain. That was the tiring part of the trip. However, God really blessed us as a family and as a church by seeing Him at work and in the privilege of serving Him in a country with so little in material goods, but rich in faith and hospitality.
Many years ago when I first became a Christian, I had heard of people becoming missionaries but had ruled this out for me - because I use a wheelchair. I was challenged through this trip to discover that if God is calling us to serve Him, then wherever He chooses to ask us to serve is up to Him, and not me with whatever perceptions I may have to limit Him. He is the one who calls, He is the one who equips - He just needs us to say "speak Lord, your servant is listening". Are we prepared to go, where He wants?
John is a wheelchair user and an ordained Anglican Minister, leading the Church of the Good Shepherd in Waterlooville near Portsmouth. He is also Chair of Churches For All, a consortium of disability ministries, and he is also a Board member of Through the Roof. He is married to Belinda and has a six year old son called Samuel. When time permits, he plays wheelchair basketball and enjoys oil painting.