Disability Ministries Committee logo using  stylized person standing and another seated in wheelchair whose arms form the horizontal arm of the cross between them.  Logo says Making the Rough Places Smooth - Removing Barriers Is. 40_4
Spring 2017
Vol. 7  No. 1
A man and a woman kneel next to a young woman in her new wheelchair with other wheelchair team members working in the background
Wheelchair Distribution in El Salvador


of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection

Greetings in Christ!   

This issue explores ministry with people with disabilities in Spanish-speaking areas near and south of the US border. All of us can learn from the models of ministry each author describes.

The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) program does a great job with disaster response and assisting communities and congregations to build, restore, or rebuild structures. However, there has been little intentional effort to address specific needs of persons with disabilities. Many of us with rehabilitation, special education, and accessibility backgrounds have been frustrated by the lack of United Methodist mission opportunities where our specialized skills could be utilized. Rev. Debbie Hills and Rich Schultze chose to proactively create opportunities that not only used their gifts, recruited United Methodists, addressed unmet needs of persons in Latin America with disabilities, but also included participation of people with disabilities in meeting such needs. 

Mariposa ("butterfly") Ministry uses a different approach. Persons living with disabilities and their guests meet for social and spiritual support, and advocate for inclusion within and beyond their communities.  Rev. Lupita Alonso-Redondo shares the history and ongoing work of this unique ministry. Chapters meet in Canada and Germany as well as near the border between the US and Mexico. May this border-bridging ministry help show a way forward for all of us.

Lynn Swedberg, Editor
In This Issue
Disability Ministry in Central America
Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia
Forty Years of Mariposa Ministry
Other Ministries in Latin America
Upcoming Events
Quick Links
Subscribe to our newsletter
Disability Ministry in Central America
Since 2003 I've been blessed to mission in Central America 30 times. These trips have used my skills as a physical therapist and a Deacon in the United Methodist Church to help meet the needs of children and adults with physical disabilities. I've served as team member, team leader, teacher, pastor, mechanic, and friend.

It all started with my first trip to Honduras with Wheels for the World (a ministry of Joni and Friends) in 2003. That trip confirmed in me a true calling to reach out and help extend love and light into some very dark places. On one trip we helped build a small rehabilitation center and fit and distributed over 100 wheelchairs. We returned several more times to continue the work, and to do teaching and training with a local therapist who served this town one day a week.

For the past 7 years, my work was focused in El Salvador through Wheels for the World. My primary role has been teaching, training and equipping therapists and mechanics in wheelchair fitting and associated therapeutic techniques to improve services to people with disabilities through national rehabilitation centers. Our model was to develop instruction at 3 levels and progress our students through it during each successive mission trip. Part of each day was spent in classroom instruction and the rest of each day our students worked alongside the US therapists to get hands-on, guided experience. As I said goodbye to El Salvador in February, 2016, I left knowing that we were leaving a strong footprint there. Nearly 100 therapists had received training and one of the therapists is at a level that allows her to continue teaching other therapists there. More than 3000 wheelchairs have been given away during this time, and 3000 people given the gift of mobility and dignity.

The Mayan people of Guatemala hold a special place in my heart as they struggle to hold on to their traditions in the face of a rapidly changing world. We work there with Bethel Ministries, International, an "on the ground" disability ministry doing amazing work. In October, 2016, I led a short term mission team to Guatemala to distribute wheelchairs and work in an orphanage for children and adults with severe disabilities. We also collect used wheelchairs and ship them by container to Guatemala, partnering with a nationwide ecumenical network called Mission: Mobility. Our goal is to ship 10 containers a year to further this life-changing work.

Woman on her knees using sandals to protect her hands while crawling. She faces a line of seated people waiting for wheelchairs.
Maritza at wheelchair distribution
One of my favorite stories is about a woman named Maritza. She greeted us in her small town in El Salvador, crawling on her hands and knees as she brought us water, pulled out chairs, etc. to help us get ready for a wheelchair distribution. When asked if she was excited to get a wheelchair, she told us she didn't need one! The next day though we found out that she did need one but wanted to be sure everyone else in her town got one first. By the end of the day there wasn't a chair for her. We arranged transportation for her to meet us in the next distribution location and got the perfect chair ready for her. (See photo of Maritza in her new chair with author Debbie in title bar above). She met with the local pastors we always have available to share the gospel and accepted a Bible because she told the pastor "I want to learn more about this man named Jesus who sent the team here to help my people." Throughout the next year when I spoke about our work I asked everyone to pray for Maritza.
Woman on her hands and knees crawls next to a man seated in a wheelchair
Assisting the team
When we returned to the town where she received her wheelchair, Maritza came with a few more people from her town to get wheelchairs. As we greeted each other with a kiss on each cheek, I asked her how she was. With that sweet smile of hers, she told me that she now had Jesus living in her heart.

Most of the team members come from United Methodist congregations. For more information, to join a team going to Central America, or to help with wheelchair collections email [email protected].

Submitted by Rev. Debbie Hills who is a Physical Therapist and a Deacon in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. She is appointed as Executive Director of All God's Children Ministries (www.allgodschildrenministries.org). She serves as UMVIM coordinator for her district, and is a new Northeastern Jurisdiction representative member on the DisAbility Ministries Committee of the UMC.

Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. Children with disabilities in very poor third world countries like Bolivia are often neglected, abused, cast aside, and not provided with decent education, medical attention or job possibilities.  Their families and school teachers - if they are fortunate enough to go to school - are often at a loss on how to care for, love and teach children with special needs. Teachers seldom have training on how to help children with disabilities. Disability laws are underfunded and under-enforced. There are a few bright spots in the form of quality social services agencies, often supported by other countries, and services for individuals with specific disabilities. 

Smiling woman  standing_ holding a young boy who has a developmental disability_ with a crib style bed in the background
Team member with Bolivian child
To address these issues, a group of United Methodists from the West Ohio conference formed the ongoing Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia to work with the staff and families of the Walter Henry Educational Complex in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Many volunteers are from Christ Church UMC in Kettering, OH, which helped build the school. We also assist other special education professionals and families of children with disabilities in the city to increase acceptance and to improve the education of these children in the local schools.

The Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia mission team has conducted four annual multi-day conferences on disabilities in Santa Cruz, beginning in 2013. We are planning the 5th annual conference for the summer of 2017. The team consists of special education teachers, caregivers, parents of children with disabilities, persons with disabilities, and other related professionals from the United States and other countries in Latin America. Some of the team members have had disabilities themselves. 

We work with our peers in the Santa Cruz area to jointly plan and administer the conferences. The last conference was attended by approximately 100 persons and was considered a great success. The US team taught only a third of the courses, representing an increase in local agency participation. For 2017, the conference is being organized by our friends in Bolivia, and the US team will present some courses and provide financial and other support. This is a crucial step in moving "ownership" of Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia from the US to our Bolivian co-workers. 

Woman in colorful ethnic cloth wrap that also holds her baby on her back Sessions of past conferences have focused on attitudes towards children with disabilities, issues in special education, specific techniques for teaching children with disabilities, types of disabilities, school transportation for children with disabilities, care-giving by families and friends, and other topics. Several mothers presented an especially powerful talk in 2015 about the obstacles they face in advocating for their children despite poverty and lack of any support structure. The love for and dedication to their children comes through strongly.  The safe environment allowed these mothers to offer encouragement to other parents in attendance. Both Spanish and English PowerPoint presentations of many of these sessions are available at our website.

During our trips we also visit families with disabled children, social services agencies
Two women in conversation in an outdoor setting in Bolivia
Susie Henry, retired UM missionary, offering support to a parent of a child with a disability
assisting persons with disabilities, and local universities that provide special education training for teachers. 

If you would like to be a part of the team to plan the conferences, go to Bolivia, or just lend your expertise and interest, please consider joining us. Team members from all over the US are welcome to participate. There are many ways to help: prayer and emotional support, funding and fundraising, supplies and logistics, technical expertise to help prepare conference sessions and teacher materials, and travel to Bolivia to participate in person as a Volunteer in Mission.

For more information or to contribute financially to the Embracing Disabilities in Bolivia on-going mission, please contact Rich Schultze, at 937-304-6333, [email protected] or [email protected]. See our website: www.disabilitybolivia.org.

Contributed by Rich Schultze, a United Methodist layperson from the West Ohio conference with many years of experience improving systems of public transportation for people with disabilities in the US and developing countries.

Forty Years of Mariposa Ministry
Dr. Kenneth M. Tittle and his wife Diana came to Calexico, CA, as part of an effort by Cesar Chavez to bring medical attention to the farm workers in Imperial Valley. As they worked in the community they realized that many young children were brought to our local orthopedic clinic to be seen by doctors from Shriners Hospital in Los Angeles. The children were treated, given leg braces, crutches and wheelchairs, but no one talked to them, nor to their parents, about the emotional and spiritual impact that their physical disabilities had on their daily lives, self-esteem, and self-acceptance.

By talking with parents and children to learn how it was for them to live with a physical disability, Dr. Tittle gained understanding. Soon those children started gathering to share their fears, their doubts, their dreams, and their faith. In the 1970's Dr. Tittle was diagnosed with cancer and the whole group went through a spiritual transformation. Soon the group was not a social club any longer- they re-birthed into Mariposa [butterfly] Ministry. Some of those girls who had grown up in the group became peer counselors, reaching out to other youth who needed a space to address their issues related to faith and disabilities in a safe and healthy way.

Dr. Tittle became " el doctor de las muletas" (the crutches doctor) who with his " preguntas metiches" (nosy questions) would challenge youth to accept their disability as part of who they were. Many learned to use their crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs with pride and began to write their testimonies and experiences to share with others.

Those group conversations with Dr. Tittle would often challenge theological understandings in regards to Scripture, God, faith and the predominant conception of life and disability. Mariposa members soon began to go to churches, camps, schools, and other venues to create awareness and to challenge society on theology and misunderstandings about disability, life and faith. 
Group of people standing with others seated in wheelchairs in front of them and one woman seated on the floor
Participants in Mariposa  (Disability Awareness) Sunday at Calexico UMC

Many from the group grew up to pursue a career, got married and had children. That brought more issues to deal with and gave the group an opportunity to be of help to more families. Mariposa Ministry has influenced national dialogues on faith and disability through the many peer counselors who today are scattered in many parts of the world, and who continue to advocate and work towards creating acceptance and empowerment of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Tittle passed away in 2012, but the group continues its work. Last year Mariposa celebrated forty years of ministry. 

Groups meet weekly or monthly in a number of communities on both sides of the border. While members have scattered and formed cells where they now live, once a year we all get together as a big family, usually in early December to celebrate our Posada. We are from different walks of faith and different denominations; we have different disabilities, but are joined by the same Spirit. Empowerment, strength, acceptance, sound faith and affirmation come from these gatherings; and little by little, all of us who have gone through the process have become beautiful butterflies that continue to soar.

There is much work still to do. Needs include
* spiritual -religious programs and resources for both sides of the border
* churches, programs, and community spaces truly open to address the concerns of persons with disabilities of all ages
* pastors trained in a healthy and sound theology around issues of disabilities
* Sunday School teachers given training and awareness in regards to disabilities and teaching strategies to address needs
* curriculum in both languages that can be used in Sunday School and small groups

Calexico UMC, where I serve, is working on becoming the first bilingual church serving persons with emotional, psychological, cognitive, developmental. physical, and visual disabilities, and their families, on both sides of the border. We seek to serve parents with disabilities raising able-bodied children, able-bodied parents raising children with disabilities, and single young adults seeking a family relationship. People with disabilities across the border in Mexicali have very limited resources and almost no real educational and job opportunities. Much of what is available is thanks to the hard work, the community involvement, the awareness and the impact that our group has made throughout these years.

People_ some in wheelchairs_ seated outdoors_ listening to a program
Mariposa gathering
Please pray for our ministry, come and visit, help us spread the word about us, and stay tuned for new developments and new efforts that God is birthing here.

Contributed by Rev. "Lupita" Alonso-Redondo, Calexico United Methodist Church,  Elder in full connection with California-Pacific Conference of the UMC

Other Ministries in Latin America
Fundación Crescendo  - Santiago, Chile  Advance #14056A 
Provides quality residential and community day services for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Instituto de Buena Voluntad - Montevideo, Uruguay, a ministry of the United Methodist Church of Uruguay and former UMW mission fund recipient.  Serves adolescents and youth with disabilities by providing workshop training and other rehabilitation services. 

House of Hope - Puerto Lempira, Honduras, offers a home and school for children with a variety of medical needs and disabilities, sponsored by First UMC of Allen, TX.   

The Church and People with Disabilities resources created for the United Methodist Women Mission u study several years ago are available in Spanish.  They would be a starting point for awareness-raising in a Spanish-speaking congregation. The resources include:
  • The translated textbook by Bishop Peggy Johnson La Iglesia y las Personas con Discapacidades: Tomo de Concienca, Acceso, y Abogacia is available for purchase through UMW Mission Resources.Book cover of Mission u study book in Spanish
  • The study Leaders Guide Guía para líderes La iglesia y las personas con discapacidades: Toma de conciencia, accesibilidad y activism can be downloaded for free. 
The PowerPoint presentations created for Embracing Disability in Bolivia are available at 
their website.  Many are in Spanish and would be appropriate for training in other settings. 

See a video of a wheelchair distribution at the Bethel Ministries International website

Download a copy of " Disability Beatitudes" - a liturgy written by Dr. Kenneth Tittle for Mariposa Ministry - to use in Disability Awareness Sunday and other worship services.

Upcoming Events

June 5-8, 2017 Summer Institute on Theology and Disability          Azusa, CA

The 8th annual gathering explores the intersections between faith and disability from a global, interfaith perspective.  Members and friends of the Committee will present a number of workshops during the week. See the Collaborative on Faith & Disabilities website for details. 

August 1-4, 2017 The 4th Global Methodist Missions Conference of the Deaf
Waxahachie, TX   

This international event, hosted by the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf, will be held Logo for conference that includes an I Love You hand shape behind the word 4th_ an outline of the state of Texas_ and Isaiah 48_16_ Look_ your names are on my hands. at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center. 

Registration and program information is available at    the UMCD website

All sessions are given in or interpreted in ASL and the indigenous sign language of all attendees.  
Ecumenical participants are welcome.

As winter gives way to spring and Easter nears, may your heart be warmed to accept God's grace and power to make a difference in your church and community.  Please share your stories and ideas with us, and let us know how we can better serve you. 
DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church 
Contact any of us through the Committee email address .