“Disabled people are disadvantaged people here, and they have the greatest need….They hide and are confined at home. They have no chance to go outside. They live in despair and depression, and they need care and spiritual support. They don’t see hope, only darkness,” said Dr. Xu Zhang, Ministry Director in Anshan, China.
But God is working in miraculous ways. Lives once full of darkness have been illuminated with the light and hope of Jesus through the Bethesda ministry in Anshan, China. It has touched lives that were filled with tragedy and entire families that were on the brink of suicide.The ministry began when Christ’s love entered Zhang’s life at a time when he was overwhelmed with despair.
A successful orthopedic surgeon, Zhang was on a medical mission in Yemen in 1997 when his life changed forever. What many people would consider a tragic diving accident, Zhang looks upon as the moment love and purpose entered his life. Zhang’s accident left him paralyzed in all four limbs. Initially, he could not see past the hopelessness of his situation. As a quadriplegic in China, his future looked especially grim.
“I wanted to die,” Zhang said.
But he could not even fulfill his wish for death. He had no ability to move from his hospital bed let alone bring an end to his own life. In the midst of his despondency, a number of Christian friends came to visit Zhang in the hospital.
“I got to know many Christian friends who gave me their love and support,” Zhang said. “They showed me that God is love.”
Someone gave Zhang the book, “Joni,” written by Joni Eareckson Tada who became a quadriplegic in a diving accident. After her accident, Joni became a painter and began an international ministry. In her book, she describes how her faith in God carried her through and gave her hope.
Touched by the book, Zhang began translating the book into Chinese for others to benefit from Joni’s testimony. He sat in the hospital room verbally translating while his mother transcribed. Later, he became a Christian.
Zhang was baptized in 2003, yet remained in hospital care until 2007 when he was able to go home. While hospitalized, Zhang developed a plan and a board of directors for the ministry he wanted to begin – a ministry for people with disabilities in Anshan.
“Since I received love,” Zhang explained, “I wanted to give love.”
Dr. Wrede Vogel, Luke Society Executive Director, was led to Zhang through a missionary contact. Soon a partnership was formed between Zhang and the Luke Society.
The ministry flourished as people began to volunteer and Zhang acquired staff members. Now, more than 189 local Chinese people volunteer with Bethesda. The ministry is comprised of six programs, with the possibility of a seventh, and is having an enormous impact throughout Anshan and nearby areas.
“At the very beginning, I only had a vision,” Zhang said, “but I could not do anything because I was still hospitalized at the time….Now, we are very blessed. We have an office and volunteers. And more and more people are serving in our ministry and becoming saved. God has opened the door and we have just developed gradually.”
The first program is home visits. The volunteers and staff make regular visits to poor families that have been affected by the needs of a family member with disabilities.
“This is the most important program for us now,” Zhang said.
The team visits more than 94 homes and 31 of these visits are to extremely poor households. These 31 families receive a visit from the Bethesda team on a monthly basis, receiving financial support, oil, and rice.
Two full-time teachers and a number of volunteers are responsible for the second program, which is tutoring children with disabilities. Bethesda provides tutoring for 117 children with various disabilities. The team helps them learn to read, write, and use a computer.
For the third program, Bethesda organizes “outings,” or field trips, designed specifically for children who are predominantly confined to their homes. These field trips are scheduled three to four times a year. Each child must be accompanied by one parent and one volunteer.
Zhang’s ministry team partners with Joni and Friends for the fourth program, which is wheelchair distribution. Each wheelchair is custom-fitted for the person receiving the chair. The recipients are also usually given a Bible as a gift.
“We have given away 1,126 wheelchairs by now,” Zhang said.
Evangelism and spiritual support comprise the fifth program. Zhang’s staff introduces volunteers to families and they share the Word with each family. The Savior’s message of hope and love is also spread through the compassionate actions of the Bethesda team. More than 53 families have come to Christ through Bethesda’s home visits.
In an effort to provide support for the whole family, Zhang recently began the sixth program: Parent’s Club. Yuhua Zhou oversees the group and organizes regular events that encourage parents to spend time together. It provides a social network for parents of children with disabilities, and over 60 mothers have joined the club.
“Parents can share joy, tears, and advice on how to take care of their children,” Zhang said. “It’s very supportive.”
Rehabilitation for disabled children comprises the seventh program, still in its fledgling stages. This year, Zhang invited a couple of therapists to accompany volunteers on home visits. These therapists gave parents professional advice and instructions for their children’s care and needs.
“Many children still have the potential to improve their body’s functions,” Zhang explained. “If proper therapy is given, they might gain more independence and a better future for their lives.”
Through the combined efforts of these programs, Zhang and his staff bring hope and love to people who have been abandoned – considered a disgrace to society. These life changes are evident in the heart of another man who is also quadriplegic, named Peifeng Liu, who is able to say through his trials, “I am happy.”
Peifeng Liu’s Story
“When I first met him,” Zhang said, “my heart was touched because he reminded me of my family, only his family was living in much worse conditions.”
Liu lost the use of all four limbs in a motorcycle accident in 2003. Since the accident was his fault, he did not receive any compensation for his injuries and lives on a small subsidy from government. Before the accident, Liu owned a tailoring business and lived in a nice house. But the house had to be sold to pay medical bills. Three years after the accident, Liu’s wife became despondent and abandoned the family – including their son.
When the Bethesda team visited Liu, who was living with his son and mother, the family was on the verge of suicide.
“It was a big change when Bethesda came to our family,” Liu explained. “If I hadn’t gotten to know Bethesda, our whole family would have disappeared.”
Initially, the family was resistant when Bethesda volunteers told them about Jesus’ saving grace. However, the ministry connected Liu with two people from a nearby church who made regular visits to his home.
Suddenly one day, Liu’s mother called the Bethesda office and asked the team to help remove more than 20 idols from their home. Now Liu, his mother, and his son follow Jesus. A Bible sits propped inside a box near Liu’s bedside. The box stand is designed so Liu can read while lying in bed or sitting in his wheelchair. Bethesda also raised money for a caregiver for Liu, because his mother’s eyesight is failing and she is unable to take care of him by herself. Unfortunately, Zhang said the money raised for the caregiver is “far from enough.”
Recently, Liu had to go to the hospital for treatment of an infection. The doctors were unable to diagnosis him immediately and sent him home just a few days after his arrival. Liu said the hospital sent him home early because it was too much work to care for him. Although Liu sometimes becomes discouraged by these circumstances, his faith and hope rests in the Lord.
“I am from a very big family,” Liu said, “and my family gave up on me. But Jesus will never give up on me.”
Liang Yang’s Story
A few weeks ago, eight year old Liang Yang took his first steps. Born with cerebral palsy, Liang has been confined to his small wheelchair most of his life.
The Bethesda team met Liang during a day of home visits when the driver took a wrong turn. They found Liang living with his grandparents who had become his caretakers when he was a baby. At 16 months old, Liang’s mother had passed away and his father had abandoned him.
Standing in front of Zhang’s wheelchair, Liang leans on the armrest reciting Psalm 1, which he memorized as part of his homework from Bethesda. The words flow rapidly from his mouth, accented by the big dimples on his cheeks that grow bigger when he smiles as he completes the last verse. His favorite part of tutoring with the Bethesda ministry is Pinyin – Chinese phonetics.
“In the future, I want to go to school and contribute to Bethesda,” Liang said.
If Liang learns to walk with crutches instead of using a wheelchair, he will be able to attend school. In China, children must be able to physically support themselves, feed themselves, and use the bathroom on their own in order to go to school.
Liang’s grandmother explained the impact Bethesda has had on her life. Before the ministry came, she worshipped many idols of Buddha. She began worshipping Buddha when she was in her 20’s but “no good” came to her through the idol worship.
When Bethesda volunteers presented the Gospel to Liang’s family, they told his grandmother that Jesus came to save and to heal. Her heart was opened and she was greatly moved. Soon after, the whole family became Christians.
“Before we met Bethesda,” Liang’s grandmother said, “we were living in darkness – hopeless. We met by accident, so it was obviously God working. Since Bethesda came to us, we have more and more faith. Every month, Bethesda comes to visit us and we are touched by love. I can’t express with words – we are filled with gratitude.”
Zitong Li’s Story
Every day, Zitong Li’s mother dresses the little four year old girl in the prettiest clothes she can find. She puts clips in Zitong’s hair and adorns her face with tiny star stickers. Zitong’s older brother taps her cheek to make her contagious grin spread across her face, brightening the whole room.
Anyone who catches a glimpse into the family’s small apartment would never imagine that a few months ago, Zitong was hardly able to swallow because of her severe cerebral palsy. Her mother had to chew all of the little girl’s food before transferring it to Zitong’s mouth because she could not swallow foods – or even drink juice. Zitong had to be held constantly – even while she was sleeping – or she would cry from the discomfort of lying down on her own.
The father left the family when he discovered Zitong had cerebral palsy. Her mother was left to raise two children on her own. Sadness and despair had overtaken their home. In China, parents of children with disabilities feel disgraced by the social stigma. This hopelessness and isolation provoked Zitong’s mother to consider suicide many times.
When the Bethesda ministry came to visit, God worked through them and these problems began to change. Not long after Zitong’s mother heard the Gospel, she accepted the message and became a Christian. Since then, God has blessed the family with numerous gifts. Zitong is able to swallow much more easily and can even consume some solid foods and juice. Her mother has noticed that she now seems to recognize activities occurring around her.
Zitong’s mother attends Parent’s Club meetings and she is growing in her faith. She now has hope and receives encouragement from other mothers. A therapist from a special program through Bethesda has visited Zitong’s family, giving her mother instructions for daily exercises. The mother smiled as she said there was one more thing that changed after she became a Christian. One day, Zitong suddenly said one word, “Mom.”
Hongmiao Liu’s Story
Although he only communicates with grunts and hand claps, Hongmiao’s love for his little brother is evident. Ten year old Hongmiao has Down syndrome and is unable to communicate with words. But when his little brother lies down to sleep, Hongmiao goes to the side of the bed and kisses him to say goodnight.
For three years, Bethesda has been visiting Hongmiao’s family and presenting the Gospel to them. Last month, when a therapist visited Hongmiao, his mother relinquished her doubt of Christians and confessed her belief in Jesus.
The ministry also provides physical support with oil, rice, flour and, occasionally, even eggs. Hongmiao’s father has been unable to obtain full-time employment and the family is living off the money he can earn through odd jobs.
Hongmiao’s mother has joined in Parent’s Club activities, receiving encouragement and support. Bethesda volunteers also provide her with counseling. Before meeting Bethesda, she had often been suicidal because she and her family were discriminated against and were considered outcasts in society.
“With time, I got to know more about the Bible” she explained, “and finally became a Christian thanks to the Bethesda ministry. Since I came to know Bethesda, my life has changed completely…. I thank Bethesda from the bottom of my heart.”
Qiang Zhu’s Story
When he was just fifteen years old, Qiang Zhu’s father passed away. The teen with Cerebral Palsy was left behind to live his life in fear. He was afraid to go out in the street, afraid to see a funeral procession, afraid of everything. Fear gripped the young boy’s life.
Now, 20 years old, Qiang smiles as he describes how God has changed his life, “Now I am no longer afraid.”
His eyes fill with tears when he tries to describe how he feels about becoming a Christian, “Before I became a Christian, the doctors told me I needed surgery for an illness. After I became a Christian, the illness completely disappeared. The doctors were shocked and could not explain how the illness disappeared.”
Qiang loves church. He participates in plays and sings in the praise team. He also writes songs and blogs praising God.
Bethesda has connected Qiang with a man who wanted to make a special Chinese Bible for foreigners. The Bible has Pinyin below the Chinese characters in order for foreigners to learn the proper pronunciation of the Chinese words. Bethesda has commissioned Qiang and five other children with disabilities to work on sections of the Bible by copying and pasting the Pinyin into the Chinese Bible using their computers. Qiang works on his assignment from home late into the night, as late as 2 a.m., because he enjoys the work so much.
Qiang’s mother has been blessed by Bethesda as well. Before the ministry came to visit them, Qiang’s mother was suicidal. Now, she said if she does not read the Bible every morning, her day does not feel complete. She has also joined the Parent’s Club.
“When I participated in the activities of the club, I feel warm inside my heart because I felt like they were family,” she said.
One of the Bethesda teachers asks Qiang to sing a song. He smiles shyly and gathers his composure. As he sings the song “Change of Life,” the teacher begins to cry. His huge smile spreads across his face as he finishes the song.
When Qiang was asked what his favorite verse is, he said, “It is difficult to choose a favorite verse, but I particularly like John 3:16.”
“For God so loved the World”
The smiles of more than 20 children brighten the dimly lit halls of Anshan Science Museum. Laughter bounces off the walls and echoes through the rooms. Old friends greet one another and new friendships are formed.
This is a Bethesda field trip. Zhang worried the day before the trip that the cold, rainy weather would keep some of the children from being able to attend the outing. Although the weather remained chilly, the sun peaked through the smog of Anshan and billowing, white clouds filled a bright blue sky.
A guide led the children through the rooms of the museum as they played with machines illustrating gravity and exercise equipment. God’s work through Bethesda became apparent as the children’s excitement grew contagiously. A ministry that began in a hospital room was flourishing and increasing in love and compassion.
“In the beginning it was difficult,” Zhang said, “I knew there were a lot of people with disabilities who were living in darkness. Almost no place [in Anshan] is accessible to wheelchairs.”
According to Zhang, there are 120,000 people with disabilities living in Anshan – and this is just the number of people who are registered. Zhang has seen the changes in people’s lives when they meet the Bethesda team and are impacted by the ministry. He prays the impact of his ministry and the love of Christ will reach increasingly more people with disabilities:
"Hope replaces despair. The smiles on the people’s faces are very important. What we can give is very limited. We can share the Gospel and give practical support. They have to live everyday totally in darkness. The change in their attitude about life shows in the change of their face. It really means a lot to us – to me. At least they know someone cares for them, thinks about them, and is trying to help them."