Behind closed doors

Parents of a disabled child face many challenges, but it’s even harder in Bolivia, where disabilities are viewed as a ‘divine punishment’.

Stigma is widespread and parents often feel guilt and shame. Statistics show more than 90% of disabled children regularly miss school, but this shouldn’t be the case, insists Special Education Needs teacher Sarah Allen, who’s been working in Bolivia since 2014.

“Families need the help of their community the most, yet often find themselves ostracised,” says Sarah, who joined SIM UK in 2020, to change attitudes and offer support.

Sarah Allen

Sent by Strandtown Baptist Church, Belfast, Sarah hoped to start a ministry helping parents of disabled children living in the city of Cochabamba in a valley in the Andes.

However, her plans were delayed when her arrival coincided with Covid-19, the Bolivian presidential elections and the run-up to Christmas.

Twice a month, Sarah travels into the Andes mountains to run support groups

“It was hard to go into quarantine and then straight into the Christmas season,” admits Sarah. “The transition was hard but I was amazed by God continuously opening doors and saw his hand in so many little ways that really encouraged me.”

Despite the impact of the pandemic, Sarah was able to get her ministry up and running and after the schools finally reopened in April 2022 (after two years online) and she worked part-time at Carachipampa Christian School, teaching pupils with learning difficulties.

She also started support groups for support groups for parents, as well as free workshops for the kids themselves.

“It was absolutely incredible to see how fast things grew and to know that only God could possibly be doing it!” she insists.

Single mum Sarah with her adopted sons Edson and Danny

As relationships grew, parents began to wonder why Sarah and her fellow mission workers were helping.

“They began to ask questions about why we’re doing it and why we care – both about them and their kids,” says Sarah. “It opened up conversations about Jesus and the gospel and was exciting to see.”

One of Sarah’s big hopes for 2024 is to expand her kids’ club where all children are welcome and families hear the gospel message through drama, singing and puppets.

“Most children with disabilities are discouraged from attending activities in their church, or just refused entry entirely, but I feel so strongly, that if God can reveal himself to us, he can (and desires to) reveal himself to those with disabilities just as much.

“We want them and their families to know that they’re worthy and loved, both by us and more importantly, by God.”

By Kerry Allan

Please pray

  • Praise God for all he’s doing in Bolivia through Sarah’s disability ministry.
  • For God’s guidance and wisdom as she provides support to children, parents, and teachers.
  • For families struggling to raise their children in a society that doesn’t value them and has few resources for them.

This was posted on 2 January 2024 in Compassionate ministries and Ministry stories.

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