At an age when many are still going to school, 22-year-old Getenet Timmermans is starting one. The school will exclusively serve students with intellectual disabilities, and it will be half a world away, in Ethiopia, where Timmermans spent the first 15 years of his life.
“God is leading me to this kind of journey,” said Timmermans, a member of First Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. Orphaned at a young age and adopted, along with his younger brother Fekadu, by Steven and Barbara Timmermans in 2010, the math major at Trinity Christian College wants to serve God by giving back to his community in Ethiopia.
When it opens its doors this fall, Faith Special Education School will begin by serving 8 to 10 students who would otherwise be home full-time with a caretaker. This will also allow parents who normally stay home with their child to have an opportunity to find employment.
Timmermans hopes not only to improve the lives of students and parents but also to transform the culture, changing how people with disabilities are viewed. In Ethiopia, Timmermans said, people with disabilities are often completely isolated from the rest of the community.
When he first joined the Timmermans family and got to know his brother Paul, who has Down syndrome, Getenet was struck by the full lives people with intellectual disabilities can live. “Paul can do anything I can do. Paul can talk about his feelings, he goes to work, he can connect with our community,” he said. “In Ethiopia, [people with intellectual disabilities] don’t get job opportunities or the opportunity to interact with the community.”
The impetus to action came after an interim class (a class between semesters) Timmermans took two winters ago. When almost all other classes were already full, he signed up for “Beyond Suffering: A Christian View on Disability Ministry.” It turned out to be a pivotal life experience.
One day in particular hit home, when the professor discussed how people with disabilities are viewed around the world, sometimes seen as “cursed.” Of the places mentioned, Ethiopia was singled out for being the most egregious. “I was shocked,” he said. And yet he knew it rang true with his experiences.
He had to do something. Eventually, that something became Faith School.
Where did he get such boldness? His life experiences taught him at a young age that he had to rely on God to provide. And he couldn’t do it without support. “The people around me are always encouraging me and praying for me,” he said. “It takes many people to accomplish something like this.”