(First published by ASSIST News Service. Used with permission.)
When someone using a wheelchair shows up at church, how do you respond? Do you know what to do, how to act, what to say? Do you feel awkward? My pastor at International Anglican Church felt awkward. Now he says his congregation wouldn’t be complete without my being part of our body.I was born with cerebral palsy. However, in many respects, my life story really began when I was 23. I had been living in an apartment two years and attending community college for a journalism degree. Whatever obstacles my disability presented I overcame with hard work and determination.
But 1996 was different. I started to ask questions such as Why am I here? What’s the purpose of my life? Why did God give me disability?
Through Bible study and prayer, I discovered my disability wasn’t a mistake. My first major encounter happened after reading Exodus 4:11: “The Lord said to him, ‘who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
I cried when I read those words. When realizing God knew me before I was born (Psalm 139) and had a plan for my life (Jer. 29:11), I began letting go of my tough guy, get-through-anything attitude and gave my life to Him. That was when I knew beyond any doubt He had ordained my disability.
I use a wheelchair, my speech is difficult to understand, and yet Jesus says I’m supposed to give glory to God. This blows my mind. I often struggle having a physical disability, and have depressive episodes and anxieties. Yet God uses my disability for His glory?
I don’t understand it, yet my friends at church tell me it’s true. When hearing me sing, they say they sense the Lord’s presence. When seeing me in line for communion, my priest says God is with me and thinks the church wouldn’t be the same without me. The church is more complete when people with disabilities become part.
This is the back-story of my latest book, In the Accessible Church. At the urging of my wife, I wrote it to show how my church not only accepts my disability, but also encourage me to live my faith.
I write about my earliest memories of attending church with my family and finding a new church home after several years attending a larger church. I loved my years at the larger church, but wanted something fresh. It had been the hardest and best decision of my life.
What I have is a community who loves Jesus, worships authenticity, and serves faithfully. The people at International Anglican Church from the start accepted me with open arms as their own. I’m able to be the man God made me to be. There’s nothing I can’t do there. I’m a reader. I teach Sunday school. My disability is not the issue—the Lord Jesus is.
My readers say they love the last two chapters where I write about the nuts and bolts of having someone affected with disability attend a church. It’s always a partnership. The disability should always be secondary. That person—in a wheelchair, blind, or has a developmental disability—is a child of God. He or she needs the love of Jesus Christ and is affected by the same disease you have, which is sin.
Because of their need for a savior, people affected by disability need access to churches. That doesn’t mean buildings or programs or a perfect church. I’m perfectly happy parking my chair by the pew or reading from the pulpit. I also don’t advocate for big disability programs. A successful disability ministry is where people affected by disability serve.
This book is for church leaders who believe the Lord loves people with disabilities, but might not be aware people with disabilities have so much to offer. I am sharing my experience to encourage and teach churches how to incorporate people with disabilities into the workings of church. It is important for people with disabilities to serve and not just be served. This book will help leaders see how the body of Christ is more complete when including them. The body of believers at my church has not only taken me in as one of their own, but also encouraged me to become a better disciple. They don’t see my disability. They see a fellow Christian. My friends don’t help me out of duty. They do it out of love.