Breaking Barriers is the quarterly newsletter put out by the Disability Concerns ministries of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. To read the entire winter newsletter, click here. Below is a story written by Gerri Yoshida from Japanese American United Church in New York City.
Mana Hashimoto and I started working together in 2014 to find new performance opportunities for her as a blind choreographer and dancer. This led to my profound respect and enthusiasm for Mana’s commitment to dance without sight. I saw her desire to make dance accessible to people with visual impairments through audio descriptions of her dance, preshow walk-throughs of the dance space, and allowing audience members with visual impairments to feel her props and costume so they could imagine and participate in her performances.
In Japanese and Asian American cultures, there is strong shame, stigma, and silence around disability issues. However, God led Mana to advocate for the needs of those with visual impairments, and that helped her rise above helplessness and despair. In fact, four years ago, our church, the Japanese American United Church in New York City, celebrated its first Disability Awareness Sunday. By focusing on various physical and mental disabilities, we hope to make conversations more accessible.
“It is important for individuals to become independent and play a role in leadership,” says Mana, who serves as our church’s disability advocate. “Often people look at persons with disabilities as someone who needs care, but like any other individual, we have potential and gifts. Inclusion doesn’t mean one side supports the other; it means both sides are supporting each other.”
Attending this year’s RCA/CRC Disability Leadership Training empowered us to more boldly champion the belief that “everybody belongs, everybody serves.” We desire to include and provide a sense of belonging to people who are isolated due to aging and illnesses. We want to train our children and young people to be sensitive and proactive. Most importantly, we recognize that people with disabilities deserve to have their independence recognized and respected. Through contributing their gifts, leadership, and interests, they enrich the whole body of Christ and extend God’s kingdom work.
Disability Concerns opportunity: Terry DeYoung, the RCA Coordinator for Disability Concerns will be in New York City and staying with the Japanese American United Church from Monday, April 22 to Monday, April 29. He will attend the Classis of New York meeting on Tuesday, April 23 and preach at JAUC on Sunday, April 28. He is otherwise free to meet with pastors, churches, and consistories. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.