You don’t need drugs to be in an alternate reality

In the space of a couple of weeks, I have been transported into two alternative realities. The first, in Kenya, with a gathering from around the world with people who dedicate their lives to making the Bible available in more languages, to more people, in as many ways as possible. They are the United Bible Societies Bible Publishing conference.

And now I am in another alternate space, the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.

In Nairobi, I was with a decided minority of people, those who believe that the word of God must continue to be translated and distributed because it contains the way of salvation. It is so important a task that people give up their lives to achieve it. And yet to most of the world they will seem weird, with strange priorities and values. I was privileged to be there because of my work in Bible Society Australia’s publishing programme.

And here in Abu Dhabi, I am with the neuro-untypical. Special Olympics is for participants with an intellectual disability. They have a better slogan than the other group that uses the “O” word: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” I am privileged to be here because my daughter, Hannah, is lucky enough to be on the Australian women’s basketball team.

To most of the world they will seem weird, with strange priorities and values.

Two alternative realities. Two groups with which I am strongly connected. Both are regarded with contempt (or at least treated that way) by the wider world. Both turn the world upside down. In both worlds, the first become last, and the last becomes first. It is unlikely that, other than in media such Eternity, accolades would flow to a Bible translator, a printing ministry or someone who takes Bibles into out-of-the way places. And most of the time people living with an intellectual disability get overlooked. Yet we should get ready to meet them in heaven.

At Nairobi, Bible Society Australia won a prestigious award – named after Annie Vallotton, who drew the pictures in the Good News Bible. (A back-of-an-envelope calculation shows that her Bible illustrations were printed more than 1.2 billion times, making her the most published artist of all time.) The Valloton Award for new audience products went to Our Mob, God’s Story, in which indigenous artists tell Bible stories in their pictures.

(The team of artists whose pictures tell Bible stories in a stunningly clear fashion, and the project co-ordinator Louise Sherman of BSA’s Remote and Indigenous Ministries team, thoroughly deserved the award.)

‘Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt’ seems to me to be a fine slogan for Christian ministry as well.

I hope the Aussies do well here at the World Games – am I allowed to say this?

“Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt” seems to me to be a fine slogan for Christian ministry as well. We cannot always know what will bring a harvest or grow disciples. It may be that the true stories will only be revealed in heaven.

My two realities have one thing in common – great persistence. Just like able-bodied athletes, the competitors here have trained hard for years. And Bible versions can take decades to bring about.

And there’s another link between my two realities in the person of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who famously began the Special Olympics in her backyard. (She was a Kennedy, after all.) And despite the brutal deaths of four of her siblings, Eunice remained a faithful Christian all her life.

A final note: I have found that Christian families are over-represented in disability-land. The reason is quite simple – Christians don’t have abortions.

A second final note: A few days after I came home my two realities came together again. On Facebook I connected with a Bible Society colleague from Sweden, and it turns out that her son, tall and a basketballer like my daughter, was on stage at the closing ceremony – making the announcement that the Winter Games in 2021 will be in his home country. Rather less than six degrees of separation between my two realities.

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