From A Mountain Climbing Accident to The Power of Vulnerability

The Encourager

Ps Jack O. smiling at the camera in his wheelchair holding a basketball on a basketball court

I was born into the tribal culture of the indigenous Native American people. My parents taught me the indigenous plants, how to catch a wild horse, and the value of Creation Care. My grandparents immigrated 100 years ago from the Netherlands to the Navajo Reservation. They were beloved cross-cultural bridges to the Navajo and Zuni tribes and embodied the love of the Great Shepherd. My story does not begin with me. I was blessed by a multi-generational family that practised the love of God and who intentionally built bridges of hope across cultural divides. I learned to see vulnerability as an essential ingredient to courageous leadership. Those values set a foundation for my life and call.

During university, I took a biblical archaeology course in the Middle East just after the First Lebanese War. Whilst there, I went on a mountain climb in the Golan. I was on the face of the cliff when suddenly it sloughed off. I fell 80 feet. Upon impact, four vertebrae in my back exploded. The pain that shot through my body cannot be described with human words. The next 3 months were spent in a military hospital with wounded soldiers from foxholes on the front lines. I was paralyzed from the waist down. My ward became a vulnerable community of 18 bloody soldiers with arms and legs blown off, bullet holes through their heads and gangrene. Tragic stories can become redemptive ones of healing when we courageously choose to be vulnerable with God and others. My disability inducted me into a new tribe! People with disabilities are a tribe that is often unseen, forgotten, or traumatized in many global communities. That is where God has called me.

One of the most life-altering pivots in my own life happened at Elevate’s National Camp in 2005. People with disabilities, along with their families, friends and caregivers, participated from New Zealand, Australia, China, Fiji, and the Cook Islands. There was almost a tangible sense of God’s presence in our midst. The love of God communicated what human words could not express. There was mystery in the experience, but it was clear what was going on. The presence of the Father was brooding over His beloved children.

Jack kneeling down, praying with a young female camper with a microphone on stage

On the last night of the camp, as I was beginning to close my talk, I heard God say, “Son, you are not done here. I want you to invite them into global mission.” I spoke out what God burned into my heart, “You have positions in the Kingdom of God. You have rank and file in the Mission of Jesus globally.”

There are times when the veil between this world and the next is very thin. It was that kind of moment. The front of the auditorium was packed tight. The outcome of that night was the emergence of four cross-cultural missionary teams. They were organized by the participants themselves. Within 6 months, people with significant disabilities led each of the teams to India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Jack kneeling down talking to a young camper in a wheelchair

That camp experience changed me in two ways: 1) God’s Fatherly love was over the top for people with disabilities. That weekend, I stopped running from my disability and received His love. 2) I decided to be faithful to empower and equip people with disabilities to fulfil a vocation call in cross-cultural work.

The question that stands out is, “Why are we not adequately recruiting, training, sending, and supporting people with disabilities whom God is already calling and sending?” God is calling up shock troopers for the Mission of Jesus. They have God-given roles to fulfil in cross-cultural Kingdom work that will dismantle shame and honour cultures address injustice, speak truth to abusive hierarchies of power and bring a fresh sense of hope to broken humanity. Vulnerability is one of the most powerful tools that God uses to express Himself.


By Jack S. Oppenhuizen

Jack Oppenhuizen is a cross-cultural mission strategist with the lived experience of having a disability. While in the Middle East, he had an 80’ mountain climbing accident and became an incomplete paraplegic.



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'Can I Come Too' Resource is a new Christian Camping Resource that Elevate is creating. But we need your stories... Have you or your child with a disability had an experience with attending or not being able to attend a mainstream camp that you’d be willing to share? People’s stories are vital in creating awareness and can be the catalyst for change. They can help challenge, inspire and motivate others. Your story could be what motivates a person to make a change! Please tell us your story online here or email it to