LRE: How would you describe your disability?


have not always had a disability. When I

was twelve I began noticing pain in my wrists and that I had a low-grade

fever. I was always very active so the

paint seemed strange. I went to the

doctor and his diagnosis was that I had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It has progressively gotten worse over the

past 53 years.

LRE: Is the word “disability”

offensive to you?

JB: Not at all! I prefer it over

“handicapped.” I often refer to myself as a person with a disability. Notice I

use the word “person” first to make the point that first of all I’m a person.

What kind of person? I am a person who happens to have a disability.

The church that is educated looks at everyone’s talents—including mine. In other words, as a person with a disability, God has given me abilities too. Right?"


LRE: Many today refer to

individuals like you as a disabled person.

JB: That’s right and sometimes just a

disability. In other words, someone might call me “an arthritis.” I’m not “an

arthritis.” I’m a person who has arthritis. See the difference?

LRE: Yes, however, some are

offended if they are called disabled.

JB: Let me explain that, if I may. Think

about the word “disability.” The reason that it’s OK is that dis-ability means

there’s something wrong with the ability. It does not mean that you have no

ability. It means there’s an impairment of some kind to one or more of your

abilities. For me to say I’m not

disabled is silly. I do not walk and walking is an ability. In that context I

have a “dis-ability” when it comes to walking and running. However, I still

have a lot of ability. I’m not useless. I have many abilities, but I just don’t

walk. See the difference? For me the word “handicapped” is different. It’s a whole different ballgame. For example.

If I come to your church and there are a lot of steps to get into the door, and

there’s no ramp, then I have just been handicapped by my environment. So I have

become a handicapped person because I use a wheelchair and I can’t get in

there. I’m not as a person handicapped; the situation has handicapped me.

LRE: Do you find a challenge

in the church? What can we do better?

JB: Oh, all the time. First of all, the church needs to design and

build with all people in mind. For example, if I come to your church, have you

planned on me using a wheelchair? Will I be able to use your bathroom? Would I

be able to come onto the platform if you were to invite me to have opening

prayer during the worship service?

We also need to teach the

church to think inclusively. The church isn’t always educated to do that. The

church that is educated looks at everyone’s talents—including

mine. In other words, as a person with a

disability, God has given me abilities too. Right?

So if the church is doing this, it will look at me and say, “What are Joan

Bova’s abilities? How can she use those talents and abilities to further the

cause of the God?” If we are going to be a church that speaks to all people,

we’ve got to be inclusive of all people.

Keep in mind that disability means everything—any kind of mental or

physical impairment of any kind.

LRE: What actions by others

have been most helpful to you?

JB: First of all, it is helpful when

individuals are open to learning more.

When a person understands disabilities, they look at it in the broad

view and are open to learning even more. They allow those with disabilities to

teach them. The quality that is the most

needed is honesty. Don’t be afraid to

talk about my disability—I already know about it.

LRE: Attitudes are important


JB: Yes, and attitude goes both ways. The

non-disabled and the disabled person both have an attitude. A disabled person

may come to church with a bad attitude and say, “Why didn’t you plan for me?”

On the other hand, someone with a good attitude might say, “They must not have

planned for me because they don’t know; therefore, I have the responsibility to

educate them.”

LRE: It has been said, “God’s power always shows up best

in brokenness.” Do you feel you are a better person because of your juvenile

rheumatoid arthritis?

“God’s power always shows up best in brokenness."

It’s true. I’m a much

better person. My body is broken. My body was not meant to have arthritis but

because it does, I have the opportunity to learn and share more. Think about

it. I am able now to empathize with others because I hurt. If I cannot walk,

which I can’t, and you for some reason had an accident, I am able to understand

your pain better. I’m able now to serve others, help them more by being more

understanding. I believe, I really

believe, that I have an advantage of leading you to Jesus if I can first

understand your challenges. I’m called to serve disabled people. I’ve always

known that. And how could I have served them if I wasn’t one of them? My disability is most definitely a blessing.

LRE: What counsel would you

give those struggling with their own disability?

JB: I would say to them first of all, give

it time. Time changes everything. Give yourself the opportunity to grieve.

Everyone has to go through the grieving process, and that takes time. There is no time limit on that. Anyone who

sustains a great loss, like losing an ability, is going to grieve. You have to

give that some time. I would tell that person that with time you will learn to

do things differently. At first it’s like, “Oh no! What’s happened to me?” But

later on it’s like, “No big deal.” Eventually the disability becomes your new


LRE: What suggestions do you

have for a local church or pastor?

JB: I would direct the attention to two

areas: First of all, I’d say, “Look at

your physical structure, your physical accessibility.” For example, can I get

in your door with a wheelchair? If I’m blind, can I figure out how to get around?

If I’m deaf, is there a sign language interpreter? A ramp might be needed for

accessibility. Look first at your

physical structure. Then after that, look at the attitudinal barriers.

“Look at your physical structure, your physical accessibility."

LRE: What does disability

ministries have to do with stewardship?

JB: Stewardship means responsibility, right?

We’re all called to be stewards of what we have. That means I must be a good

steward of you and you of me. I just

happen to be one of those disabled people but that does not excuse my

responsibility. The Lord expects the same of me as He does of you. There can be

no “Oh, poor me” excuses. No, I must learn how to do things in spite of my

limitations. At the same time we must

remember that in God’s eyes I’m not limited. In God’s eyes, He’s given me gifts

and abilities too. So God says to me, “Use what I’ve given you and share it

with others.” That’s what it’s all about.

When anyone takes on the

name of Christ, they become God’s

people. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter whether they walk or talk or hear

or see; that’s irrelevant. The point is:

Those who have accepted Jesus Christ, who take on the name of Christian,

are to live by His principles. As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, we believe

we are to share the gospel with everyone.

Isn’t that exciting!

Joan Bova interviewed by Larry R. Evans, Editor of Dynamic Steward. Photos by Ron Quick.

Bova is the former Disabilities Ministries Coordinator for the Southern Union

Conference, as well as for the North American Division. Joan has had a physical disability since

childhood. She resides in North Carolina, USA, with her husband, Phil, and is

currently retired.