All of a sudden, his health was gone; all things that he had been striving for in the past years disappeared. "I realized how fragile and flimsy a person’s strength is," Dr. Xu says. "At that time, I could only feel grief, agony, anger and despair. I could not find any reason to live."
Then, even though he was an atheist, God began to work in Dr. Xu’s life. A Japanese therapist gave him a tattered, old copy of the story of Joni Eareckson Tada in English. While reading the book, Dr. Xu learned how Joni struggled out of the despair of her diving accident with the help of her family and Christian friends. She also formed a renewed relationship with God and was given a new life.
Dr. Xu’s heart was warmed by her story. He immediately began translating the book from English into Chinese, hoping that it would encourage more people with disabilities in China. In his hospital bed, Dr. Xu dictated every word while his mother wrote them down. It was a miracle that they finished their first transcript in only 45 days.
After reading the book, Dr. Zhang Xu began reading the Bible and developed relationships with Christians. He continually receive tremendous love, help, and support from them. "Like Joni has experienced, I saw God’s grace and Jesus’ redemption in my own life," he says. "For He saved my soul, which once had been full of selfishness and arrogance." In 2003, Dr. Xu and his mother were baptized in Hong Kong.
"My quadriplegic body never prevents me from dreaming," he says. "My dream is that I should lead a meaningful life. As a disabled doctor, I identify my mission to work with people affected by disabilities in China."
The city of Anshan is located in the southern part of Liaoning Province, China. The population of the city is 3,396,000. Having the largest steel company within its borders, Anshan was once a city with glory and affluence in China. It was called "the Capital of Iron and Steel." But in recent years, many state-owned companies and enterprises either downsized or went bankrupt because of changes in the economy.
There are roughly 110,000 people registered with various disabilities in Anshan. The reasons for the disabilities are mainly congenital diseases or injuries from industry or traffic. Like many other places in China, most disabled people in Anshan are living in extreme poverty.
Except for those injured in work-related accidents, most disabled people have no fixed income. They survive only on meager government aid. In urban areas, a disabled person may receive up to 320 Renminbi per month (less than $40). In rural areas, one may only receive 40 Renminbi per month (about $5). For many disabled people, this small amount of money is their entire income.
For those with severe disabilities, they usually cannot afford to pay for somebody to take care of their daily needs. In many cases, this leaves only family members and aged parents to care for the disabled.
"To add to the difficulty of living in Anshan with a disability, most buildings in the city – and in most parts of China – have no elevator service," Dr. Xu says. "So the disabled people with mobility limitations have to stay at home all the time, totally isolated from society."
"As a result of the undeveloped national welfare system, the basic life needs of many people with disabilities still can not be met," Dr. Xu says. "Many paralyzed people cannot afford a wheelchair and have to stay in bed. Many children with a hearing impairment cannot afford to have a hearing aid, and therefore miss the best time of rehab training."
At the same time, other problems occur because of poverty, such as lack of education and rehabilitation. "Because of the expensive medical service, many disabled persons can not afford to go to the hospital when they get ill, thus their health deteriorates," says Dr. Xu. "Under such circumstances, necessary functional rehabilitation obviously is a luxury for them."
In the past several years, great efforts have been made by the Chinese government and Chinese Disabled People’s Federation to help disabled people meet their basic needs. "But due to limitations in policy, economy, the concept of the whole society, the result of the efforts is quite limited," Dr. Xu says. "Therefore, the lives of most disabled persons are still wondering at the quite low-level situation. They are the poorest citizens in the city and have much less support than they should. They are in desperate need of both practical help and spiritual support."
To help the disabled people in his hometown, Dr. Zhang Xu established a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Anshan named Anshan Bethesda Rehabilitation Ministry (ABRM).
Realizing how many disabled people cannot afford a wheelchair, Dr. Xu contacted an American NGO, "Joni and Friends," to donate wheelchairs to people with disabilities in Anshan. In the past two years, 300 disabled people have received their new wheelchairs. "During the distribution of wheelchairs, I could see and feel the joy and excitement of the wheelchair recipients, their families, and their friends," Dr. Xu said. "Most of the recipients came to us by carts or on their friend’s back. That day, they received a precious wheelchair and a more precious gift – a Bible."
ABRM also provides regular home visits to poor families affected by disability. The purpose is to find their need and help them to feel the love and hope of Jesus. During the home visit, the ABRM staff realized how many disabled were not able to afford medical care. So ABRM started a mobile medical clinic in the poor communities.
"Considering that most disabled people are confined at home all the time, ABRM organizes volunteers to bring them out to enjoy the beautiful nature God has made," Dr Xu says. "It is not an easy task for those volunteers, for there is no disability-friendly transportation or infrastructure in Anshan. But when they see those joyful faces, the volunteers know that their efforts are worthwhile."
After many prayers, Dr. Zhang Xu has received a vision for the Anshan Bethesda Rehabilitation Ministry. In the future, he hopes to provide a comprehensive disability center in Anshan which will provide basic medical service, rehabilitation, entertainment, and a place for family retreats, gathering and worship for people affected by disabilities.