My Disability Was No Limit For God (Ros' Blog)
This week we have a guest blog from Julia Mitchell. Julia is a longstanding supporter of Through the Roof who was born with cerebral palsy, which caused her to have difficulty in various aspects of life including speaking and walking. During the final year of her Open University degree she lost her sight and also became a wheelchair user. The events she describes here happened before she completely lost the ability to walk, and before she lost her sight. I love the story that she shares with us here because it is a powerful reminder that disability is no barrier to being used by God...
I’m going to tell you about the trip I went on in 1991. I could walk then and was not a wheelchair user like I am now. In August 1991 I went to Romania with two Christian friends of mine, Sylvia and Alan. Alan had a camper van and we brought some toys for the kids and a lot of baby clothes. First we went down to Folkestone where Sylvia’s mum and dad lived and we stayed overnight with them. We started our journey off from there the next morning. We got a ferry to Calais and then from Calais we went to Germany.
We stayed with two of their friends, and they had lots of Bibles there. Alan adapted the van; he put a metal platform down to make it look like he had a big step to climb on just so that he could hide a lot of Russian Bibles in there. I can’t remember how many Bibles he took but it was quite a few.
The journey was quite full of adventures. From Germany we went on to Czechoslovakia, as it was called in those days. And on the motorway we broke down and because we couldn’t get it repaired immediately, we had to stay overnight in a big parking bay in Czechoslovakia. Next morning, we got towed back to Austria where we had to hire a car, which meant we could only take the essentials and had to leave a lot of stuff behind. We took a few clothes, all the stuff for the kids and all the Bibles and some of the food.
We weren’t supposed to take the hire car to Russia but, because I’m disabled, they said yes you can take it. So we started our journey to Hungary and we had to get through the border which wasn’t very nice, it was a wonder that we got away with the Bibles. I don’t think it was quite as tough in that year but whatever you did, if you had any money you had to make sure it was on your body and not in the car and you had to take everything out of the car and lay it on the floor so that the army could come and have a look and check what you’d got and I’ve never seen anybody who goes through your stuff like they did. Then we had to get everything back in the car and go through to Hungary. So we spent a whole week in Hungary going backwards and forwards to Romania and then back to Hungary for a whole week. Then this is where it all happened.
In Hungary they’ve got special schools for people with cerebral palsy and I asked the girl I was staying with if I could go and have a look at one and she made me an appointment to go and see one. And I’d never seen anything like it. It’s a boarding school and it’s got a big gym where they do gym for about 8 hours a day and in between that they have to do their education. And I went round the bedrooms and they had pictures, music, guitars, keyboards, and they’d got animals and they’d got a cat.
In Romania we went to the accommodation, we were stopping at a hostel where people could go in and out. Before we started this holiday we got a lot of leaflets about the Lord and about God and we had to fold them up in half and half again to give them out. I think we did about a thousand of them altogether. My poor hands were getting fed up with folding them up all day. So when we got to Romania we handed a lot of these leaflets out and we were meeting people who were hungry to know about God. It was absolutely amazing. They don’t just drop them on the floor like we do over here, they really do read them and take it home with them.
I spent a week in Hungary and going backwards and forwards to Romania, giving out the Bibles. I had to keep my eye on the people who were taking the Bibles because they were coming back for another one, so I had to say to Alan and Sylvia, “Don’t give him one because he has already got one.” I don’t know what they did with the second Bible, they probably gave it to somebody else in the family or they might sell it, who knows?
From there we went to Ukraine and this border was even worse than the other one. But we managed to get through with the Bibles. In Ukraine, we went to an orphanage where they keep all the babies. Now what you have to do when you get there, you can’t just walk in like you do over here, you have to buy stuff and you have to lay it all out on the table, so we did all that, the baby powder, baby food and nappy cream, we laid it all out on the table. They all came and had a look at it to see what it was. If they like it they will take it, and then we were allowed to see the babies.
Now when I saw the babies they were all wrapped up and I didn’t realise why until they told one of the carers to undo the wrapping and then do it up again. Now I asked one of the staff why they did that, and the reason why they did that was to stop the babies biting their fingers or thumbs or toes and they had to stay like that all day and all night. I don’t know how often they used to undo it but I thought how terrible it was for that little baby. And I asked, “How do they get here?” and they said well sometimes the mother will leave it outside the door and the staff will come to the door and just take the baby in.
Next day we went to a children’s home where the children were about five or maybe a bit younger and they could walk around if they wanted to but they had these cots and I can always remember one little boy who was there. He was in a cot and he was standing up. And I went over to him to say hello and he couldn’t understand what I was saying because I can’t speak Russian and he got hold of me and he wouldn’t let me go so I put my arm round him and made a fuss of him and he didn’t want me to go but Sylvia said you’ve got to go so I had to say goodbye to him.
The next day we went to another place where the children really are a lot older, I’d say about 9,10 and 11. And we brought them a lot of toys, a lot of balls so they could play football, bats so they could play cricket, all that sort of stuff. They were quite happy there – well, I think they look happy, whether they are or not I don’t know.
There were some difficult aspects about the journey. The toilets were very dirty, and at one point I had to use a washing up bowl because the holes in the ground toilets were not designed for disabled people! We stayed there for a whole week in Ukraine, and on the last day they brought me a present. It was a Russian doll, and when you undo one you get another one inside it and when you undo that one you get another one inside that one. I’ve still got it.
Back in England Alan told me that my life was going to be turned upside down. I don’t know if God told him that, and I didn’t understand what he meant but now I think I do. In the year 1999 I lost most of my sight and I became a wheelchair user, so that turned my life upside down. When I got back to London I was so glad and I thanked them so much for letting me go and they invited me to go the year after, and I decided not to go.
But you know what, if I knew I was I was going to end up in a wheelchair I would have gone, and now I wish I had done it again the year after. I certainly did enjoy the trip and I certainly did learn a lot. But my advice would be to take the opportunities you are offered because you don’t know, do you, what’s going to happen in the future.