The Blessed Dark Places
“Our culture believes that people with disabilities are the weakest part. I am here to show that they are wrong.”
Director of Blessed School
One of the great gifts of my time in the Middle East has been the relationship with Blessed, a school in Beirut for children and young adults with special needs.
Its current enrollment of 49 includes students who are autistic, blind, have Down Syndrome, and other developmental challenges. Students are given the opportunity to learn to read, earn money through vocational activities such as basket-making, experience God’s love through daily worship, and be part of a loving community.
My friend Linda is the Principal at Blessed, and her bubbly affection for the students and small staff is clear the moment I step through the door–how she talks about the school, how she greets students as we pass through the halls, how she empowers the blind adults who prepared and served us a simple lunch of lentil soup and bread.
You get a good picture of what goes on at Blessed School by joining their time of daily worship. The teacher up front with his keyboard can barely be heard through the happy shrieks and surprisingly in-tune burst of singing–even with my microscopic comprehension of Arabic, I can tell they are singing about how deeply they are loved by Jesus. Two kids with Down Syndrome are confidently leading the worship (and doing it very well). The room erupts into applause when a familiar tune begins to play and the students are invited to approach the stage and join in one of the famous national dances that all proud Lebanese know how to do. Amidst all this, Linda is the cheerleader–clapping and hugging and making it hard to distinguish herself from any other student.
There’s another side to Linda. She is outspoken and challenges the status quo and will not stop fighting to get something she thinks you need.
Blessed School needs a leader like this.
You know how hard it can be for people with special needs in the U.S. Multiply that many times for this part of the world. Here in the Middle East, everything is about HONOR–and shame. During coffee with any adult friend, I expect at least one reference to how successful and happy their son/daughter the engineer/banker is. A person’s value is based upon their achievement and performance.
Because of this, people with special needs get very little support and assistance. Schools and programs like Blessed have a shoestring budget at best. Last month, I heard Linda got into hot water for having the audacity to demand that the students start getting at least one serving of protein a day (but now they get it).
I have been told that parents with special needs children in this part of the world believe that their child is a burden and shame upon their family, and has nothing to contribute. Regularly, Linda meets with parents for the sole purpose of telling them all the special qualities and contributions of their child. It is usually the first time that the parent has been given the gift of gazing upon their child with different eyes.
Linda’s story and work resonates with me–for a lot of reasons, really, but especially because it paints for me a vivid picture of what being a Christ follower can look like.
We are invited to follow the heart of God into dark places.
And share life with people living in that dark place.
And live in a way that challenges the dark
–everything that the dark says about who a person is and the way the world works.
In your part of the world, where are the “dark” places not too far from where you live? What might it look like for you to be part of the “light” in that place?