It was some time around 2006 that I first got to know a young disabled guy who would have a huge influence on my life. In spite of his obvious disability, he had a compelling charm that inspired others, and he certainly inspired me. I’m referring to Dr. Abdulai Dumbuya, (Abs to his friends) who many in our church know, and who, like me, have also been inspired by him.
When ABS started a charity called The Dorothy Springer Trust (DST) to help disabled persons in his native Sierra Leone, he asked me if I would help, and of course I said yes. I say of course, because people rarely so no to him when he asks them for help. People like Government Ministers, Foreign and British High Commissioners, a Chief of Police, NGO CEO’s, Television Directors and Reporters, Newspapers, and I could go on. He has this gift of getting others to not just help, but really wanting to help.
Many people know Abs story prior to my meeting him in 2006. He contracted polio at the age of 5 and his mother placed him in the Leonard Cheshire Home in Freetown where he was an outstanding student. Next, through the anonymous sponsorship of an English woman called Dorothy Springer who lived in Market Harborough, he came to the UK to further his education. First, he passed his A levels and then studied at Loughborough University for a doctorate in engineering which he duly attained. He got a job at TRL and lived in his own house in Bracknell.
Then, in March 2011, unhappy with the pace of progress of the charity, Abs gave up his job at TRL and his home in this country to move back to Sierra Leone so that he could ensure that the work of DST was more focused, effective and productive. In 2014, he opened the DST Office in Freetown, as well as overseeing projects at Tombo (a fishing village, some 35 miles north west of Freetown) where a new church and school were built with the help of EBC finances. Also, in 2016 he became the chairman of the Freetown Cheshire Home, where he grew up and received his formative education. He was also instrumental in helping EBC to form an association with Regents Road Baptist Church in Freetown. If that were not enough, he became a leading advocate for all issues to do with disability in Sierra Leone, (the BBC World Service go to him when they want a comment on disability issues in West Africa) and he was at the forefront of aid support when natural disasters struck the country, Ebola, floods and a mudslide. In addition to all of that, somehow between 2011 and now, he has moved three times, got married and had a baby!
Now, what he has achieved in the past 12 years would be an outstanding contribution for an able-bodied person living in this country, but for a disabled person living in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world, it really is amazing! I have visited the country 6 times and I can tell you that it is a very challenging environment. The heat and humidity sap your mental and physical strength, and don’t think that if you are a native of that country, you get used to it, you don’t! In addition to that, in Freetown the traffic jams are legendary, so just getting from A to B is a challenge – every single day!
Often, the electricity goes off without warning, and the water supply dries up randomly. There is no NHS or postal system, and the rate of exchange for the leone against “hard currencies” is far better with a dealer on the streets that it is at a bank.
Due to the vicious civil war at the end of the 1990’s, a high percentage of the population are disabled with many people begging on the streets. Without doubt, the disabled in Sierra Leone are the most discriminated against, impoverished and under-represented in the community, but who cares?
Well, Abs cares, deeply and passionately, but why? Why did he give up living in one of the most advanced countries in the world, where he had a well paid job and many close friends, to live in a very poor third world country with all of the problems that I’ve just described? Was it because he is disabled himself, and Sierra Leone is the land of his birth? Yes, of course that is part the answer, but it’s not his main motivation. What I haven’t mentioned yet is Abs’ Christian Faith. Abs is a deeply committed follower of Jesus, and if I had to sum up why he has done what he has in just three words, it would be Faith, Love, and Action.
In fact, these three words should describe all followers of Jesus. Our faith in the love and saving grace of God who sent his son Jesus to pay a price that we couldn’t and can’t pay for our sin, should lead us to respond with love. Love for God and love for our neighbor. This in turn should move us to action. Of course, our mission statement at EBC encapsulates this: “To love God, love people and grow together to become more like Jesus.”
The following reading is a perfect example of this faith, love, and action process. It is a story that many are familiar with and is found in three of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the second part of the bible called the New Testament. Jesus has begun his ministry, and in particular he has healed people who have had various and serious physical illnesses. Now, after travelling around the region, he returns to his hometown of Capernaum. You can read this by clicking here.
“One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said; “We have seen remarkable things today.”
We don’t know how this man was paralysed, only that he was unable to get off his mat. We also don’t know what relationship the men carrying the mat were to the paralysed man, we are not told. What we do know is that these men had faith, but faith in what? They had faith in the authority of Jesus to heal their friend. They may have seen Jesus heal someone on another occasion, or they may have heard about his healing power from someone they trusted. Wherever it came from, they had total faith in Jesus and his authority. In response to this faith, their love for this paralysed man led to remarkable action. In spite of the obstacle of a packed house with no obvious way through to Jesus, they still managed it, through the roof.
If you are a person of faith, a follower of Jesus, you may conclude that this story is a clear example of how you should respond when confronted by disability issues; faith, love and action. Yes, of course you should, always. However, you should have also noticed that Jesus’ first concern was the man’s spiritual disability, paralysis caused by the debt of sin. When Jesus saw the faith in his authority demonstrated by the men who lowered the paralytic to his feet, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
When people see that the story is about Jesus authority to heal the man’s spiritual paralysis, they then realise that within this story is the gospel in miniature. Without Jesus, everyone on the planet is spiritually disabled; they are paralysed by a debt that they can’t pay. Only Jesus could pay the debt, and he did when he died on the cross. When he said it is finished, he was saying the debt is paid, and to all those who accept what he did by faith, repent and turn to God, he says “take your mat and come home, praising God”.
Abs has inspired EBC to actively support disabled people, both financially and through prayer for both DST and the Freetown Cheshire Home. He is a remarkable and inspirational person, and with God’s help he has clearly demonstrated what disabled people can achieve. Nevertheless, he is still physically disabled. However, because of his faith in Jesus, and his response in loving others, which is clearly demonstrated by his actions in Sierra Leone, he’s not spiritually disabled, and he will tell you that is the most important thing.
All people of faith in Jesus must continue to demonstrate their love by actively caring for those who are physically disabled and for those who are spiritually disabled.
Who cares? God cares. I care. Do you care? I hope and pray that you do!
Questions and Reflections (for you to think about on your own or to discuss in your Life Group)
1. Read the passages through a couple of times.
What words or phrases jump out at you? Why do you think that is?
2. Try to put yourself in Peter and John’s position as they walked past the beggar? What would you have done? Be honest.
3. Try to put yourself in Peter and John’s position. How would you feel, in the prison overnight? What would you think that God was up to? How would you feel if you were threatened as they were?
4. When it comes to living in fear or faith what is it that has the biggest effect on your life and decisions?
5. Having read the prayer, how does it make you feel? Compare it with the way that you pray or the way that you hear others pray? What are the features and differences?
6. As a result of looking at this passage is there anything that you would like to change in yourself. What are you going to do about it?