Moments after he entered the world, Erick was cuddled in his mother’s arms, just as every little one is cuddled. Yet Erick wasn’t like every newborn.
A gene mutation gave him extra fingers and toes. As time passed, that same mutation would reveal a diminished capacity to speak. His body would be prone to obesity and walking would never be as easy as putting one foot ahead of the other. Worst of all, Erick’s kidneys were in danger of failing.
Any child born in poverty is vulnerable, but a child with special needs faces a double portion — the very reality laid out for Erick and his mother, Angelica Aconda, in crowded Quito, Ecuador, in 1996.
Erick’s medical diagnosis was Bardet-Biedl Syndrome, but his needs were greater than medical. In Compassion’s program terminology, Erick is a “highly vulnerable child.” That description means something very specific in Compassion’s world. As a matter of fact, it’s a way of ministry influenced by Jesus’ own handling of a special-needs situation.
Disability’s Harsh Reality
In many developing cultures, being a special-needs child is a social death sentence. Societies may shun these children. Governments can do little to support them. Families abandon them. Some even see a disability as a curse. I believe the disciples took the same “stand back and judge” attitude until Jesus set them straight.
I don’t know exactly what the disciples saw when they encountered the blind man John writes about in Chapter 9 of his account. Was this man a beggar in filthy clothes eking out survival? Was he segregated and alone, conspicuous by his isolation? Whatever they saw, they made the wrong assumption.
They asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”
Do you see the flaw? No compassion. No involvement. Just a detached and philosophical question that sought to assign a cause. Somebody had to be to blame.
I love the way Jesus level-set their thinking. “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” Jesus said. Here’s my paraphrase: “Get your mind off of blame and get it on how God will work in the life of someone He loves!”
As noble and revolutionary as that sounds, I am fascinated by how Jesus actually displayed God’s might. His response teaches Compassion and me much about what it takes to accommodate people with special needs.
Jesus spits on the ground. He makes mud with the saliva and rubs it on the man’s eyes. And then, while the man is still blind, Jesus tells him to go and wash it off. What a surprising but insightful approach! Here’s what it tells me:
Intervening for those with special needs is gritty work. Like mud, it can be messy and unconventional.
Intervening is also personal. Jesus could have simply said the word and everybody would have witnessed a healing. But He applied His own saliva, His own effort and His own touch. He personally committed Himself to a special need.
Intervening takes faith, too. Even with Jesus’ unconventional actions, the man had to take a literal walk of “blind faith” to wash off the mud. Healing came at the end of the path, not the beginning.
And finally, intervening means seeking out and providing a place. The rest of the story tells us that the healed man is cast out of the community by the religious authorities. But Jesus seeks him out — tracks him down, really — to confirm the work of God in his life. What an amazing affirmation when the once-blind man heard “the Son of Man … is the one speaking with you.” The man found a home in Jesus.
Erick Finds a Home
We met Erick when he was 5. Today Erick is 16. He has outlived early prognoses. He is fully a part of Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program at the San Pablo Apostol Student Center in Quito. He is mainstreamed into the classrooms and the lives of the students and workers who surround him. At San Pablo he receives the special help he needs with language skills and reading, while Compassion provides critical access to ongoing physical therapy.
But there’s only so much I can tell you. I want so much for you to see Erick for yourself, all the way from his beginnings with Compassion at age 5 right through to today. Won’t you please take just a few minutes to view Erick’s story? His smile will lift you. So will his mama’s love. But most of all, I want you to see what it means to be a highly vulnerable child in a Compassion child development center.
Like the man Jesus healed, Erick is a picture of God’s love and care for the most vulnerable.