Parkinson's patient Christine ministers to Peruvians with disabilities
By Tianna Haas | Peru in South America
Photo by Favi Bejar.
SIM Australia member Christine Jeyachandran was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s Disease when she was just 37. Coming to terms with her condition has enabled her to confront a common misconception: that those with disabilities or illnesses are at fault.
Christine now speaks about Parkinson’s and disabilities from a biblical standpoint, explaining the inherent worth God has imbued people with regardless of their health. She said, “People judge you, even in Christian circles. They’ve been taught, ‘You need to pray more to be healed. You don’t have enough faith.'
“There’s this false assumption that your sin has caused your illness. Well, we’re all sinners. Health doesn’t mean you are righteous either. So, it’s a topic that needs more discussion in the church.”
Christine’s own disease shaped her understanding of worth and disabilities. She said, “One of the challenges is to see good coming out of it. When I got it, I prayed that I would be like Paul and have joy in suffering, but I wasn’t there yet.
"Now I can see that God totally brought this for a purpose.
He wants me to show God’s love to others as I serve them."
“Now I can see that God totally brought this for a purpose. He wants me to show God’s love to others as I serve them. People are very encouraged by what I’m doing and are very surprised that God is providing these opportunities for me.”
Christine, her husband David, and their three children have served in Peru for nine years. Besides Christine’s work, the Jeyachandrans also host a conversational English club and lead Bible study twice a week for university students. Christine is also involved in women’s ministry.
Christine started her area’s Parkinson’s Association, which meets monthly. At each meeting, she and another Christian with Parksinon’s give short devotionals or testimonies to discuss struggles in light of scripture.
She said: “We focus on the fact that this [having Parkinson’s] is not your fault. It’s not a punishment from God. Because they’re so rejected by society, it’s a great message to start with and one I repeat a lot.”
Christine is particularly intent on communicating the value of exercise for combatting Parkinson’s symptoms and improving mobility and balance. She said, “Here, when I did a survey, 50 per cent of people with Parkinson’s don’t do any exercise and don’t know any of its benefits.”
Christine began to build awareness about Parkinson’s and first gained visibility through a short video she submitted to the Unite for Parkinson’s campaign. The response inspired her to begin gymnastics, an interest shared with her twin daughters Amelia and Annabelle.
She said, “Everyone was like, ‘You’re very inspiring,’ but I wasn’t looking after myself very well, and they didn’t know that – but I knew it. It’s what made me realise, ‘I can look after myself better through exercise.’”
Christine’s symptoms include trembling in her left arm and hand, poor balance, difficulty walking, and stiffness in her body. She said, “I take medication to address symptoms, but exercise is the only way to improve movement.”
So, Christine began practising gymnastics six hours a week, which gradually improved her flexibility, coordination, strength and range of movement. After nine months of strenuous work and battling fear, she learned to do a handstand – an impressive feat.
Christine sent a video of her handstand journey to the 2019 World Parkinson’s Congress. The video “Handstand for Parkinson’s Disease” made it to the finals of the competition. She attended the event and shared with those she met about her work in Christian ministry.
She is now an ambassador for World Parkinson’s Congress 2022, has spoken at the ‘INSIGHT into Parkinson’s’ Conference, has been a guest on the Parkinson’s Road Podcast, has had an additional video featured in an online magazine, and continues to advocate for Parkinson’s education and spiritual understanding.
While the coronavirus has postponed many of Christine’s plans for her Parkinson’s Association group – including patient evaluation to start exercise programmes and training for local physiotherapists from a doctor – she remains determined in her ministry.
• Those struggling with Parkinson’s, especially since social distancing can interrupt normal exercise routines and isolation can worsen symptoms and anxiety.
• Christine’s speaking engagements to help bring spiritual and medical awareness of Parkinson’s and disabilities.
• Christine to persevere in exercising, since the lockdown prevents her from visiting the gym. Pray she continues to get creative at home with gymnastics training, since an end to exercise would cause her symptoms to return.
• The Jeyachandran family and their ministry.