CALLED TO SERVE
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
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
“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!