|Charity interacting with one of the kids who comes to the Support Group|
Many years ago, a Blind Man received spiritual sight, and became a Christian. Shortly thereafter, it happened that he was going to move to a Distant Town. The Blind Man's Pastor was concerned that he have a church to call home, so he called up the pastor of the church in the Distant Town, and began to explain
the situation. "I have a recent convert," his pastor said, "who is moving to your locality." "Wonderful!" the Distant Town's pastor cried, "tell me about him!"
"Well," said the Blind Man's Pastor, "the thing is, he's blind, and would need
someone to take him to and from church." A frozen silence crystallized on the
other end of the phone line.
"Oh," said the pastor of the Distant Town, dismay seeping from his voice, "I don't think our church has a place for those kinds of people," and ended the phone call.
The Blind Man's Pastor was grieved, and angry. But he was also a man of
God. And so he began to pray for the church in the Distant Town. The Blind Man's
Pastor prayed that day, and the next. He prayed even after the Blind Man moved
away to the Distant Town, and he was no longer the Blind Man's Pastor. Every
time he prayed, he prayed that God would give the church in the Distant Town
God's heart for people with special needs. The Pastor prayed for many years. He
did not spread stories about how horrible the pastor in the Distant Town had been.
He just prayed the same prayer again and again, "God, please give the church in the Distant Town Your heart for special needs."
Years later, but not so very many years ago, the Pastor was still praying for
the church in the Distant Town. The Pastor was still a Godly man, and was still
trying to help the people with special needs in his own church. One day, he went to
a conference to learn new ways to help people. And there, in front of him, was a
table set up by the Distant Town's church,telling about their disability ministry.
The Pastor cried with joy-- God had given the church His heart.
This is a true story--the Distant Town is my town, and I sometimes attend
the Distant Town's church with my family. I have met the Blind Man's Pastor's
parishioners, who tell me that their Pastor is indeed a man of God.
The Blind Man's Pastor did not divulge the exact year that he began praying,
so we do not know who was pastor of the Distant Town's church at the time.
Perhaps it's for the best. Who knows why he acted as he did. Did the Distant
Town's pastor think, as did the Pharisees in the Biblical account, that blindness of
the eyes must be caused by blindness of the soul? (John 9)
Was he frightened of what he did not understand, and was revulsion born of that
fear? Did he think, somehow, that a disability is catching? I doubt we'll know on
this earth, and when above or below it, as the case may be, I doubt we'll care. But I
hope that before his death, his heart will be expanded with a Christ like love for all
people, regardless of physical or mental disability.
Sadly enough, the stories about believers being refused spiritual nourishment
because of their disabilities are not unusual. Perhaps other churches might not be
so crass about it, and might go about saying the same thing more circumspectly,
but many churches have a difficult time knowing what to do with people who have
This past summer, my family received the wonderful opportunity to attend a
Joni and Friends family retreat. We were able to meet many other families who are also affected by
Many of the families said they were discouraged with their church's lack of
understanding, compassion, and accommodation for special needs. Some families
said that they had even stopped attending church because of it. Here's a sampling
of some of the problems mentioned:
*Special rules made in Junior Church specifically for children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrom to follow.
*A child with autism being labeled "rebellious" because he has Delayed Auditory Processing and doesn't respond immediately when spoken to.
*A lack of understanding of the extra financial, time, and emotional constraints that caring for someone with a disability brings.
How can we expect stressed and hurting families to remain in such an unsupportive
environment? And yet, as the body of Christ, we cannot afford to alienate any of
If you were short sighted, would you blindfold yourself? As Corinthians 12 says
about the body of Christ: "21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those
parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable" (NIV) The Church, as a whole, needs to embrace their members with special needs and disabilities. Families and individuals who deal with and have special needs require extra care in some areas, but have much to offer in others. Because of the
uncertain nature and challenges of many disabilities, those who deal with them have increased opportunities to learn about The Goodness of God in adversity, living by faith, and dealing with tragedy.
However, it is easy for both The Afflicted and their Caretakers to be ensnared with
feelings of bitterness, isolation, desperation, and depression. Without the support
of a church, it is all too easy for people to walk away from The Church entirely.
It's difficult, I know, to relate to people who look or act bizarrely. As an
example, my brother, who is on the autism spectrum, when younger would fall
to the floor and roll away if anyone tried to shake hands with him. It was only
when he was about fourteen that he finally learned to shake hands.
Light touch also hurt him, so someone casually touching his hair or
shoulder was a bad idea. If someone didn't know, or forgot, they might get
punched in the stomach at worst, threatened with biting if they were lucky, and if
he was in a particularly benevolent mood, he would merely drop to the floor and
take refuge under a piece of furniture, from where he would glare and growl.
While those days are long past, I remember them very well, and how people who
didn't understand would stare with morbid fascination.
Talking to the Caregiver or Parent is a great way to begin understanding the
people with special needs in your church and community. Relating to people with
disabilities is a lot less scary when you know that Johnny hates high-pitched
voices, or that Susie loves it when people spin her around. People become human
when you know that Billy, though he can't eat solids, can eat cotton candy, and
that while Ms. Janie can't talk, she loves to sing. Bobby can't sit still for more than
a minute, but he is a fount of knowledge on the topic of vacuum sweepers, and
Mr. Anderson, who always belts out an off-key "Amen" 30 seconds after the
preacher says it, is a mechanical genius and can fix nearly every kind of car ever
It's surprising, really, what you can learn when you pay attention and ask caring,
respectful questions. Most parents of children with special needs will be happy to explain how to
relate to their child. In fact, I know quite a few families, and I can't think of any
who wouldn't be willing to help you understand their child.
One of the very best ways to help a family or caretaker, is to figure out what
you could do to help, and then offer to do it. i.e, “I'll be going into town on
Tuesday, do you need me to take Susie to her piano lesson?” or “Do you need
someone to come water the plants while you're in the hospital?” While offers of
“let me know if I can do anything to help,” are well meant, in many cases they are
impractical. People who are overwhelmed by medical and therapy bills, the
copious amounts of paper -work that inevitably come with such things, and the
emotional and physical needs of their children, are doing good to get out of bed in
the morning. Expecting a burnt out family to figure out what is possible for a well
intentioned “just let me know” person to do is highly impractical. It is far, far
better to follow the example of an old gentleman, who made it his life's mission to
shine the shoes of the recently bereaved. Whenever there was a death in his small
town, he would go to the affected house the night before the funeral, and collect
the family's Sunday shoes, which he would then return the next morning, blacked
and polished to a shine. He found something to do, and he did it.
Even small acts of service can be large blessings.
In the past, ignorance might have been a valid reason for leaving the disabled in the lurch, but today The Church has no such excuse. Ministries such as Key Ministry (www.keyministry.org) and Joni and Friends
(www.joniandfriends.org) exist to help churches and individuals better serve their special needs members,
and reach out into the community. They offer starter kits and directions for starting ministries, helpful articles, interviews, relevant news articles, and guest posts by people who know.
As for the church in the Distant Town, it has fulfilled the Blind Man's Pastor's prayers, and more. It now most definitely has a place for "those kinds of people". The church in the Distant Town has been taught how to relate to people with special needs, and offers services to support families, such as a staffed
sensory room for children who are overwhelmed by the main service.
Every month over the school year, the people in the Distant Town's church
hold a party for children with special needs and their typical siblings. It is not
necessary to be a member to attend. There is food, games, Bible stories, music, and balloons. The teens with disabilities put on a Bible-story skit, and sometimes help lead the singing. There are crafts and fellowship for the mothers, and dads have begun attending, as well. I have been attending with my siblings for two years now, and would hate to miss it. The parties are full to capacity every month,
with more people who would like to come but can't due to space and staff constraints.
Ironically, the church also now runs a bus ministry, for adults with disabilities who can not drive themselves to and from church. People who could not attend a church because of their children's special needs
now attend the church in the Distant Town, and are welcomed with open arms. Under the care of The Distant Town's Church, I have seen families go from complete and utter emotional and spiritual exhaustion, to having new life, quite literally. Jaws have relaxed, smiles reach the eyes, gaits have become sprightly,
faces look years younger.
Because the Blind Man's Pastor prayed, many lives have been touched through the Distant Town's church, including mine. By embracing the special needs community, the Distant Town's church has strengthened the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, such supportive churches are a rarity. But that can change, and that change could begin with you.