By Syovata Kilonzo-
WCC News meet with Dr Samuel George of the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) at the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME), held in Tanzania from 8-13 March, World Council of Churches (WCC). George, a Christian theology professor at Allahabad Bible Seminary in India, was invited by the WCC to make presentations on disability in various parts of the conference.
Q: How did you first come to work with the World Council of Churches?
Dr George: I have studied widely in ecumenical institutions in India, and first came to know the WCC through its disability program, EDAN, in 2006 when I was a student. I participated in developing a disability curriculum for the Senate of Serampore University, a process spearheaded by EDAN and the university. It was a momentous opportunity because the university was reviewing its curriculum and disability inclusion was well-received. There are 52 colleges under the university and all of them are now teaching disability under the Bachelor of Divinity degree.
When I look back, I am amazed by how the work started in a small way has spanned all across India. Several resource materials on disability and theology have been developed. Recently, while working on a new resource material together with my colleague, we were surprised to learn that there are over 70 masters and two PHd theses on disability and theology in India. I rejoice in the work being done.
Q: How were people with disabilities included in the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism?
Dr George: This is one of the conferences I would like to laud. In the past, when we would attend such conferences as EDAN, we would hold our own separate meetings but with this one, I feel persons with disabilities were fully included. We participated in the Global Ecumenical Theological Institute (GETI), as well as the women and indigenous youth pre-meeting, plus in all aspects of the conference. It has been an amazing experience and going by it I can say that as people with disabilities, we are now part of the ecumenical movement. I look forward to seeing this momentum sustained in the WCC.
Q: As a young person with a disability, what has been your experience in mission?
Dr George: I will answer this using my experience with the 2018 GETI students. They were very passionate and eager to learn new avenues in mission and this could be seen when they were introduced to mission from the perspective of persons with disabilities. My experience with EDAN is doing mission not only from the traditional understanding but also from the margins. The margin has become the centre of mission theology. In the coming days, I can see mission theology taking a different perspective and I feel that disability discourse will be one of the mission challenges and one of the mission perspectives.
Q: What message would you like to send to churches with regard to mission and evangelism?
Dr George: Having this conference in Africa speaks a lot to mission work in the future. Like everywhere else, persons with disabilities experienced accessibility challenges to the built environment when they came here on the first day. For mission to be fruitful, it has to take on board everybody. For example, whenever there is any gathering, ensure all are included. Take into account the difficulties and challenges that persons with disabilities face. Mission cannot be done in an exclusive way. It has to be done in an inclusive way.
Syovata Kilonzo is Communication Officer, World Council of Churches, based in Nairobi, Kenya.