“How are you feeling today?” I ask Shirley Cheng, kicking off the conversation when we spoke by phone a few weeks ago. “I’m fine. Thank you,” she replies, without a moment’s hesitation. “Every day is a gift from God.”
Shirley Cheng has every reason not to feel fine. Diagnosed with severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was 11 months old, she lost the ability to walk before she had even learned to take a step and is confined to a wheelchair. In her first years, the Albany-born Cheng was hospitalized so many times between America and China that there was no opportunity for a school education until she turned 11. And though she hardly spoke a word of English when she started elementary school in Poughkeepsie, she spoke fluent English six months later with the help of special education and had mastered other subjects up to grade level.
Sadly, though, there were further trials to come. At the age of 17, Cheng lost her sight. Not that this further disability has crushed this remarkable woman’s spirit — far from it. She is a three-time summa cum laude graduate and doctor of divinity from Ames Christian University, a poet, an advocate of parental rights in children’s medical care, an award-winning author and the founder of Ultra-Ability.com, where she proclaims “Jehovah God’s Good News of Salvation through Jesus Christ.”
Now based in White Plains, Cheng founded Unite in Love earlier this year as a response to Covid-19 to feed and protect the hungry among her students in the developing world:
A little background first, if you will. From earliest childhood, through those traumatic teenage years, and now in adulthood, how have you coped with your disability?
“I would say I’ve always had a very positive attitude. I’ve always been happy, never depressed, no matter how many difficult situations I’ve had to face. When I was a baby, I laughed through my tears. When I was 4, my mother told me about God, and I immediately accepted the fact, as I saw physical creation all around me. I knew that my creator knew exactly what I was going through, what I needed, and so I put my whole life in his hands.”
How have you turned your religion and deep conviction into your life’s work?
“I lost my eyesight when I was 17. People would say, ‘Wow, that’s too bad.’ But now I think this was a divine turn of events and I’ll tell you why. I was always interested in the Bible but never really had time to read it, because of my schoolwork and typical teenage things. But after I lost my eyesight, I had a lot more time on my hands. The Commission for the Blind signed me up for talking books from the library, so I asked for a copy (of the Bible.) I learned so much about (God’s) personality, his warmth, his desire and what he wants for us. In 2008, I began my online ministry, because I wanted to share with others the joy and fulfillment I experienced when knowing God on a deep level.”
Who are your typical followers? Who comes to you wanting instruction?
“Over the years, I have been so privileged to meet people from around the world. My students come from the United States, Africa, Asia, Australia — all over. Students of all ages.”
How do they hear about you?
“From my website. And I post Christian articles on sites like ezinearticles.com. People find me there. Plus, I’m the author of nine books and people find me on Amazon. And I have a Facebook presence. I use screen-reading software — that’s how I communicate with people.”
Yes, we have so much to thank technology — well, I suppose you might say God — for. Now, let me ask you this — favorite books of the Bible?
“Oh, I like all the books.”
I knew you were going to say that. But if pressed, what is your favorite book. one you are drawn to time and again?
“I love the Book of Ruth, because it shows the power of love that we have for one another, as well as the love that God has for us. And it shows how love redeems us.”
Tell me about Unite in Love and what the project is.
“Absolutely. After I began hearing about the negative effects of lockdown, when I started asking my students how they were doing, I would get answers like, ‘I’m hungry,’ or ‘I just got some food from my neighbor’ or ‘I managed to find something in the street.’ It was so painful to hear. I gave it some thought and said to myself, I can’t just sit here and do nothing. I have to at least try to help, to put my best foot forward. So, I decided to start a fundraiser to help as many people as I could — to help my students, to help my friends. There is strength in numbers and there is power in love, so when we put them together and say, ‘Unite in Love,’ we can accomplish common good for our society. That is simply living up to our humanity.”
How did you get started?
“I prayed and hoped for the best and, to my pleasant surprise, my network of friends and associates starting donating. I started out helping 10 families, and then it became 20, distributing funds to cover emergency food supply and also to prevent the eviction of families with young children. Some had gone for days without food before we sent them money. They were literally on a liquid fast. These people are in a very difficult position (in comparison) to us, with no government benefit, no stimulus check, just left alone to fend for themselves.”
Where are you mainly supporting people — any particular region?
“Most of the students we are helping are from Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. I also have families from India, Pakistan and Nepal.”
You have a truly global reach.
“All thanks to God. I’m really humbled to be his servant. He gave me my life, he sustains it and he called me to his ministry. Serving him is the least I could do in gratitude.”
To learn more about Unite in Love or to donate, visit facebook.com/donate/310402090175008.
For more on Shirley Cheng’s ministry, visit ultra-ability.com