Holding Brokenness

Bethany Home in Malaysia is one of my most loved places. It’s a home to me. I first went there as a volunteer for the LCA in 2000/2001.

I spent most of my time with two groups of children: in my physio class, and in Level 5 (12-13 year olds). Most of the physio students (with extreme disability) have since passed away. The Level 5 children are adults now, in their early 20s. Some are working in the Lighthouse sheltered workshop. Others work out in the wider community (in open employment). Of the staff, some have moved on, either retiring or relocating. Others are still there today. Some have been at Bethany since the very beginning.

I’ve been back to visit my friends at Bethany Home many times. I love going back there. Differences in language and culture complicate things, and I find it impossible to keep up with things when I’m not actually present with them. Going to visit is how I keep in touch. Mostly I spend time listening to their stories, laughing and celebrating with them, sharing their struggles and standing by with them. If there is opportunity, sometimes I can influence the way things are for them, the way they see themselves, the world around them and their place in it. Many times all I can do is simply be there.

From my first visit I gained some wisdom from Jayasingh Rajah, director of Bethany Home, based on the idea that we are all broken people. He said that in some people the brokenness is easy to see in an obvious physical or intellectual disability. Others of us are better at hiding our brokenness, and somehow it’s not just our brokenness that is our disability; the hiding of it is disabling, too. Part of becoming whole people is honestly being who we are and showing our brokenness, rather than seeking to create the illusion of perfection.

In Australia I work in disability support. I work with adults living with intellectual disability. I assist them with day-to-day living by prompting and guiding, filling in the gaps when there’s something they can’t quite do themselves. Much of the time we’re busy with the basic necessities of life. Woven through that we squeeze in fun and lots of laughs, and sometimes we get on each other’s nerves or get angry at each other. Rather ordinary for the most part.

Through experience in disability support in my work here and at Bethany, I’ve come to see that we have different strengths. Here in Australia our strengths are in structured lifestyle support and our ideologies of disability support (though unfortunately these ideas are often not the basis of our actions). At Bethany Home their strength is community, being together and providing a space of belonging.

Twice during the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to visit Bethany Home with one of my friends, who also happens to be a client with whom I work. We went to Malaysia and Singapore, spending a couple of weeks at Bethany Home in between sightseeing. My friends found acceptance in the Bethany Home community, working at Lighthouse (the sheltered workshop) and hanging out with other visitors and volunteers in the evenings. She felt safe there; she belonged. Her self-confidence has increased in leaps and bounds each time she’d been to visit. That has had very positive effects in her life.

A lot of people who visit Bethany Home say there’s something different about it, something good about it. Something that’s wrong in other places is right here. But at the same time as there is this ‘goodness’ and ‘rightness’, it is obvious that things aren’t perfect.

They’re short-staffed and they lack resources. There are always too many people needing assistance, more students wanting to come than can ever be taken in, and people in need from the wider community coming to find help.

I’ve come to see that somehow the Bethany Home community holds brokenness. They don’t hide it, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. They live in and with the brokenness. They know that they won’t ever be able to fix everything. And still they get on with doing whatever they are able to do towards providing support, seeking improvement, celebrating what is good and wonderful, challenging the status quo and continuing to stand with people others choose to walk away from.

In this, the Bethany Home community reflects the image of God, our God who holds brokenness, living in and with us in our brokenness and in our broken world. It’s an ordinary place, yet amazingly wonderful, too, full of ordinary amazingly wonderful people. I wonder when I’ll see them next – and hope it’s sometime soon.

If you would like to consider the opportunity to serve as a volunteer in mission, serving in practical ways, teaching English, teaching in the seminaries and institutions of our partner churches, or in local churches, you are invited to phone Nevin on (08) 8267 7300 or email nevin.nitschke@lca.org.au. For more information, go to http://www.lcamission.org.au/join-gods-mission/volunteer/

Read more stories about volunteering at http://www.lcamission.org.au/category/join-gods-mission/volunteers/