Growing a Heart for Disability Ministry 

By |Published On: October 26, 2023|Categories: Podcast|

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A Diagnosis Can Change Everything… 

Wilame Leal Silva and his wife Erica Leal were overjoyed to hear they were pregnant with their second child. Then doctors gave a diagnosis that sent them reeling.

Their son, they were told, had trisomy 13, a condition likely to end the baby’s life soon after birth. Even if Daniel survived, doctors said, he would be severely disabled and not live long. 

“The first day we received the diagnosis from the doctor… we cried to the Lord at the moment that we received the news.”


Grieved facing the loss of their son, Wilame and Erica experienced disability in a new way.  

“There were moments that fear and uncertainty [wanted] to reach our hearts, but God was graceful and… We thought that at the beginning, ‘Why, Lord, did you bring us to a foreign country with no family and friends?’ We had moved from Brazil less than six months before. But he [answered] with the words, wait, trust, and rest in me.”  


“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Psalm 27:14 

While they faced pressure from some of their doctors to terminate the pregnancy, Wilame and Erica trusted that God had a good plan for their son. Wilame remembers praying with Erica before every visit to her obstetrician. They asked God for direction and peace to navigate the season ahead, welcoming and raising a son with a disability.  

“My wife has an older brother who is blind, so disability was not new for us. And he was the one who evangelized her and her mom. So we were praying for God just giving us strength, direction how we can support and raise our son with special needs,” says Wilame.  

Welcoming Daniel 

Doctors scheduled Daniel’s birth by c-section, with the doctor who diagnosed him with trisomy 13 set to perform the operation. Wilame and Erica were told that Daniel would be taken straight to the NICU. So Wilame asked if he could pray over his wife and child, as well as the thirteen-person medical team prepared to usher Daniel into the world, and straight into a neonatal incubator. 

“And that was scary because there were so many things…”   


Daniel—to his medical team’s amazement—was born without a disability, healthy and strong.  

“The doctors were surprised. They examined Daniel and they found nothing wrong—by God’s grace. And so the director of neonatal left their room telling my wife that Daniel was healthy and that he had no job to do there.”


Do you trust God to use your pain for his purposes? 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6 

While Daniel does not live with disability, the experiences leading up to his birth left a lasting imprint on Wilame and Erica. Having encountered disability the way they did, they developed a deep empathy for families whose children do have disabilities. As Wilame says: 

“After Daniel’s birth we started thinking about so many families, especially those who don’t know about Jesus—the suffering and pressure that they can face receiving a diagnosis like this. Maybe they will say yes to abortion, or they will wait until their child’s birth. But they’re going to be feeling lost, alone, isolated in the midst of dealing with all this…  

So my wife started serving at our special needs at our church in Dallas. And we started asking God’s guidance, how he could use everything that we came through for him.” 

Sharing God’s Love for People with Disabilities 

Wilame now serves with Joni and Friends as International Regional Director, Western Hemisphere, sharing the love of Jesus with families navigating the challenges of disability.  

Like Wilame, you can be part of making the Joni and Friends vision a reality: a world where every person with a disability finds hope, dignity, and their place in the body of Christ. 


Explore Resources for Your Church 

Through training and resources, we can help equip you and your church with practical tools for including people of all abilities in the life and ministry of your church, helping people with disabilities find their place in the body of Christ. 

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