“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor, for we are coworkers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. “ 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

Hi, Special Hope Family, my name is Sarah McLucas, and I joined SHN as a Cooperating Teacher this September. It has felt great to finally be here after having visited, prayed and prepared to come, with the goal of supporting teachers and families to love and serve children with Intellectual Disabilities.

As a trained Special Education teacher, I brought a keen eye for evidence of growth, or “progress monitoring” in the education world. To teach effectively, we break down each goal into its smallest components, mark where a child starts, and take data quite often in order to track a student’s progress. Instead of saying “This child at the Resource Center can’t wash dishes,” we say, “Today this child can put soap on the sponge and wet it, so now we will practice turning off the faucet and scrubbing a plate.” Next week, we measure what that child can do; if they have grown to scrubbing, we are making adequate progress. If not, we change how we teach.

Personally, I tend to approach a lot of life this way, looking for measures of growth and proof of progress. My first few months have presented an abundance of growth for me personally, getting to know new teammates, and gaining knowledge of this new place, language, and culture. The thing I keep learning, however, is that this growth is not just about me, and is not all up to me to maintain.

Upon arrival, the first thing that began to grow was my mental map of Zambia. This place that formerly occupied a tiny part of a world map in my mind now had landmarks, food stands, and lots of dirt roads which I tried desperately to piece together. “That road that leads to groceries” started to gain context; there is Brian, the Airtel guy, who can sell me minutes for my phone; over there you can buy tomatoes and mangoes; watch out for that speed bump, that dirt road when it rains, that double-roundabout, and ooh, another speed bump! 

Despite my training and experience teaching special education, my understanding of disability also expanded rapidly. Many of our children at our Community Care Centers have physical as well as intellectual disabilities, and many have behaviors, feeding needs and language barriers that challenged me from the start. At the Resource Center, my desire to support teachers to carry out the excellent practices required and continues to require grace for one another and patience to understand what is most helpful and empowering for them.  

In all of these areas, in true teaching fashion, I attach goals and deadlines, and wonder what is wrong if I haven’t met them. For the first month, it was easy to have grace for myself when I didn’t understand something in Nyanja, went the wrong direction, or carefully tested the waters of gaining trust with teachers. My self-imposed expiration dates and deadlines quickly surfaced, though, insisting that “By now, I should get this. I should know exactly what I’m doing.” Thankfully, saying that out loud helps me hear how false that is. It also points me to the bigger picture of Special Hope’s growth and mission.

Ultimately, I’m trying to thrive alongside each piece of Special Hope, including teachers, parents, and our community at large, and we are growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” because He is why we love and honor people with disability. Our growth is “from glory to glory” and has no end point of achievement on earth. As SHN seeks to create a world … (a whole world!) for kids with intellectual disabilities, we must patiently support every person involved in the work. We are invited to recognize that their flourishing is ours together in shaping a culture that honors, includes, and serves people with disabilities in the same way God does.

Tyrone painting at the Resource Center

For teachers, I’ve seen this take the shape in Humphrey, kindly asking me for more feedback on what he is doing wrong, so that he can become a better teacher. I’ve watched the Essential Skills team persevere as a new student, Tyrone, started school for the very first time at age 8, and had a rough first week full of loud yelling and biting. Notice the picture of him this week, happily painting with the team’s support. Always improving, teachers have set their minds to implementing strategies taught by US staff during Professional Development sessions, and they approach us asking for specific tools, such as behavior charts, visuals, and choice boards, so they can help students reach academic, social, functional and speech goals.

Parents hold a unique place in the mission as well, because by the nature of their being a part of SHN, they have been told that their child is not growing at the expected rate intellectually or developmentally. Where this can be discouraging or feel disqualifying, parents support one another and develop their own understandings of their children. Watching Tyrone’s family celebrate his start to school, eagerly asking how to support his goals at home, exemplifies parents’ perseverance in understanding their child and his potential. Both at the Resource Center and CCCs, parents learn to celebrate each new bit of progress in their child. Most importantly, though, they grow as a family in communicating with one another, and learn how to love their child well even when progress is slow or doesn’t match the rate of typically developing peers.

And just when my focus for flourishing is narrowed in on our teachers, children, and myself, the larger community reminds me that they are ready to grow as well. Where there was once no place in Lusaka for her to afford to educate her child, the customer service woman at the store now knows there is Kaunda Square Community Care Center. It turns out that this latest center for SHN is located in the same compound where she lives. In this way, a simple shopping trip for my husband, Alan turned in to a conversation that would expand her child’s world. Listening in at the most recent Pastor’s Conference facilitated by SHN, local pastors spoke of the need for Biblical understanding of disability in seminaries, Zambia at large, and church communities. They increased their knowledge of God’s heart for the forgotten by studying Scripture together, and made plans for their own congregations to welcome and uplift these members.

As you can see, creating this world for children with intellectual disabilities is a tall order, with many laborers. If you are reading this, you too are growing together with us. We are so grateful for your prayers, your support, your giving and your willingness to enter the often challenging world of disability in Zambia. When the realities of disability are difficult, may we trust that we ourselves and those with different abilities are called those “whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” He is faithful to keep growing us, together, towards His purposes. May we grow together in revealing His heart and glorifying Him as we serve children together.