Rev. Joannes Owino Siang’a was elected into the committee at the WCC 11th Assembly in the German city of Karlsruhe. He will represent persons with disabilities in the team that carries specific governance authority and responsibility for the global fellowship of churches.
“I am humbled to be in this huge role, but I'm trusting the Lord will lead me all the way and give me his wisdom,” says Siang’a. “I am happy because I know in the past issues of people with disabilities have been ignored and forgotten. I'm excited that our voices through me will be heard.”
His life began in Ugenya, a region in the western Kenya County of Siaya where he was born in 1972. At birth, Siang’a was not deaf, but at the age of seven, he contracted meningitis, a disease characterized by the inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
When he came out of the hospital after one year, the young boy could not hear or speak. Initially, the family—especially his mother—believed the boy, who was fluent in Luo and Swahili dialects, had been bewitched. His parents were devoted, but underprivileged Christians with 10 children.
Starting his education at Nyangoma Primary School for the Deaf, in Bondo, and training as a carpenter in Kisumu Institute Training Center in western Kenya, Siang’a would later join Grace College of East Africa and Holy Ministry Training for theological studies.
Earlier, in 1993 he had joined the Presbyterian Church of East Africa at the introduction by a deaf friend. After theological training between 1995-1988, he became an evangelist within the church.
“My passion for serving in the holy ministry started way back in Presbyterian Church of East Africa St Andrews (Nairobi), where I was serving as an evangelist for the deaf congregation,” says Siang’a, a father of three.
In 2009, he was ordained as a deaf pastor, becoming the first within the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. Soon after, Siang’a was posted as an associate minister in Makupa, a Presbyterian Church of East Africa parish in the coastal region of Kenya, where he worked to establish a deaf ministry as a volunteer for about 10 years.
Currently, the cleric serves as the minister-in-charge of Persons with Disabilities in Pwani Presbytery in the region. He also advises the Presbyterian Church of East Africa General Assembly on matters of disability and chairs the National Council of Churches of Kenya chapter of Persons with Disabilities in the coastal country of Mombasa.
His daily activities involve coordinating disability ministries in churches within the presbytery. He prepares sermons, counsels, and intervenes for others facing challenges. His work also involves carrying out pastoral visits to members and the deaf community in the region.
This year he was in Karlsruhe for the WCC assembly, where he received his election with joy.
“This is my first time to fully participate in the WCC. I'm expecting to learn a lot about its policies—first in my role in the central committee and also work to be a voice of my people in the World Council of Churches,” says the cleric.
Siang’a calls for increased sensitization of the church on the issues of persons with disabilities.
“Deaf and disabled people are an essential part of the church, and the church should be committed to ensuring the welcome, inclusion, and participation of all as one of its major goals,” he explains. “They should not be seen as a burden or less equal.”