I experienced a beautiful blessing this past week, and it had nothing to do with gorging myself on turkey and potatoes or decorating for Christmas. It happened at school when I witnessed students, parents, and teachers coming together as a community to serve a special group of people who are generally marginalized in Taiwan.
I’m talking about people with special needs or disabilities. The following excerpt from an article by the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers insight as to why people with disabilities are still somewhat isolated in Taiwan today:
No one said life would be easy, but it’s even harder for the disabled. In Taiwan, precedent is often not much help, either. Following traditional Chinese philosophy, people in Taiwan were conditioned to interpret the presence of genetic disabilities and infectious diseases as “retribution” for the bad behavior and moral lapses of the ancestors of the disabled–or even of the disabled themselves, in their own previous lives. Parents of handicapped children in Taiwan were often ashamed to admit that they had such children, feeling sullied by an invisible stain and a sense of guilt. Many people therefore tried to hide the handicapped, and relatively few were willing to step forward to ask for government assistance. [Source: Taiwan Review, “Helping the Disabled is Helping Ourselves,” Jan. 1, 1999]
For school-aged children with special needs, mainstream education is not an option. Thankfully, there are institutions where these children can attend class, learn, and be cared for by loving teachers. The school where I work, Morrison Academy Kaohsiung (MAK), has partnered with one of these institutions, the Ren Wu Special Education school, for several years. We usually send our 8th and 9th grade students to their school on our Christian Service Learning days (opportunities to serve and put the Bible’s principles into action), but this time, their students came to us, and we all participated in a profound and exhilarating event together.
The “I Am a Hero” Games
Partnering with an organization called Taiwan Sunshine, MAK put together a Special Olympics-like track and field event called the “I Am a Hero Games”–or Hero Games for short–for 60 athletes (middle school and high school students from the Ren Wu school). Our 6th-9th grade students were each paired with a student athlete whom they assisted and encouraged throughout the morning. The events were standing long jump, 50 meter race, 100 meter race, baseball throw, and ball kick. Our elementary students also joined the Hero Games to cheer on the sidelines or to hand out water bottles to the participants. We had about 35-40 teachers (from our school and the Ren Wu school) and about 40 parent volunteers helping to run events, assist students, write certificates, and lend a helping hand wherever one was needed. We even had two therapy dogs from Dr. Dog mingling with people throughout the morning. The event was hot and noisy (熱闹)–a very good thing in Taiwanese culture!
It was also quite a touching and poignant event. Most our students were very nervous and unsure of how to relate to their athlete buddies when the day began. However, by the second or third rotation of events, a change began to occur. I think I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.
You can find more photos of the Hero Games on the MAK website photo gallery.
One of my roles at MAK this year is the Christian Service Learning Coordinator, and as such, much of the planning for the Hero Games was my responsibility. Now, I’m not saying that I can take all (or even most) of the credit for putting this event together because it was a major team effort! However, I did invest time and energy into planning, and that investment made the event all the more meaningful to me.
Midmorning, when things were under control and no one was looking to me for answers, I stood back and took it all in. I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and love that I experienced: local Taiwanese teachers and special needs students coming together with our American school, athletes competing with courage and passion, MAK parent volunteers pouring heart and soul into their jobs, our student buddies going way out of their comfort zones to serve the athletes, elementary children standing on the sidelines cheering, teachers investing in the lives of students and empowering them to experience something new and fresh, community members looking on, and overall, a realization of God’s Spirit at work.
The “I Am a Hero” slogan embodies the concept that athletes with special needs are heroes for competing in events that some of them would never dream of doing on their own. The athletes truly were heroes at our Hero Games, but they weren’t the only ones. As I looked out on the track and field, I was moved by how many heroes I saw. I am so proud of all of the people who came together to make the Hero Games a success, and I believe that God also is pleased by our schoolyard full of heroes.
And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ ~ Matthew 25:40