Exploring the Needs and the Opportunities that Exists between the
Christian and Persons who have Challenges
One thing I’ve been wanting to do is to present Mephibosheth Ministry’s cornerstone workshop, Exploring the Needs and the Opportunities that Exists between the Christian and Persons who have Challenges, as a blog. This would allow me to do several things including making it more available and writing it out for future students.
The workshop is the brainchild of Mary Jane Ponten, founder of Mephibosheth Ministry. Some topics included in it are
· Scripture/devotionals based on disabilities
· “A time to laugh”
· Accessibility issues
· When love is not enough
The workshop is designed to be interactive. I encourage you to interact with the material. Please feel free to ask questions and make comments along the way.
I hope you will be
Captured by a vision
TOPIC 1: A POEM
We start our workshop by having someone (usually the pastor or, if we are in another country, a native speaker) read the Beatitudes for family and friend. We want to set a tone that people with disabilities should not be ignored. They have something to offer, and they will always bring out the good in everyone.
Beatitudes for Family and Friends
Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech, for you help us persevere until we are understood.
Blessed are you who walk with us in public places and ignore the stares of strangers, for we find havens of relaxation in your companionship.
Blessed are you who never bid us to “hurry up”, and more blessed are you who do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them for us, for often we need time-rather than help.
Blessed are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for the delight we feel when we surprise you outweighs all the frustrating failures.
Blessed are you who ask for your help, for our greatest need is to be needed.
This always has a big impact when it’s read out loud. What kinds of emotions do you have as you read it today? Please post your answers.
TOPIC 2: DEVOTIONALS
Today we are going to briefly look at four scriptures that help ground us in disability ministry.
I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue…Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Exodus 4:10, 13
We all have done it…given an excuse. We are too busy. Too tired. Have to wash my hair. But does it go over the line when you use your disability as an excuse?
That’s what Moses did. God revealed that Moses was to free His people from Egypt. Instead of accepting the assignment, he gave reasons of why he wasn’t qualified to do this job. His final excuse? He was slow in speech.
God didn’t buy it. Moses was the right man for the job. 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? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)
Excuses don’t work with God. Whether it’s the person with the disability who thinks his disability disqualifies him from participating in ministry or a pastor who thinks a disability might not portray the right image for the church, God’s answer is clear: disability or not, He has work for each of us to do in the Kingdom!
And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet.
2 Samuel 9:14
After becoming king of Israel, David remembered a promise to his beloved friend Jonathon as well as to the previous king Saul, to care for their family. After a long search, David found Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth wasn’t in good shape. He had been dropped by his nurse fleeing from their home and ended up walking with a limp. David was encouraged to forget about Mephibosheth and leave him for the dogs (after all, a “disabled person” couldn’t be seen in the palace courts!), but David had compassion for Mephibosheth, accepted him as his son, and made a place for him at his table.
In his book, David, Charles Swindoll paints a picture of what life must have been like after Mephibosheth joined David’s family:
Picture what life would be like in the years to come at the supper table with David.
The meal is fixed and the dinner bell rings and along comes the members of the family and their guests. Amnon, clever and witty, comes to the table first. Then there’s Joab, one of the guests –muscular, masculine, attractive, his skin bronzed from the sun, walking tall and erect like an experienced soldier. Next comes Absalom. Talk about being handsome! From the crowns of his head to the soles of his feet there is not a blemish on him. Then there is Tamar – beautiful, tender daughter of David. And, later on, one could add Solomon as well. He’s been in the study all day, but he finally slips away from his work and makes his way to the table.
But then they hear this clump, clump, clump, clump, and here comes Mephibosheth hobbling along. He smiles and humbly joins the others as he takes his place at the table as one of the king’s sons.
Swindoll couldn’t have painted a more accurate picture. David didn’t have to create a law and a program in order to make Mephibosheth part of his family, he just welcomed him into the family. His example reminds us that everyone is special and has a place in the Kingdom.
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
This verse is pretty clear, isn’t it? Jesus reminds us we are to treat everyone as if we were serving the Lord himself. And who is the very least in the Kingdom of God than people with disabilities? We need to obey our Lord and care for people who have special needs. He will bless our efforts!
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9
The Apostle Paul had a challenge. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about his throne in the flesh, most likely a disability. Three times he begs the Lord to take it away, but the Lord tells him, “No. I can use you better when you have a disability.”
Paul has been there. He knows what it’s like to have a challenge, and he can encourage us from that perspective. First, he is being challenged himself with his disability and recognizing God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Second Paul is challenging us to recognize God’s power is made perfect in weakness. When we recognize this, we are able to see that people who have disabilities has something to offer to the church.
Let us remember Paul’s challenge and be able to say, “God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.”
TOPIC 2: A TIME TO LAUGH
In our workshops, we set aside a time for people to experience what it’s like to have a disability. We pass out caramel candies and have people recite John 3:16. This creates slave in their mouths making it difficult to talk.
Try this at home.
A few years ago, I lead a disability awareness night at my small group. Before dinner I asked four volunteers to take on a disability for the evening. They had to eat dinner with their disability and figure out how to get by for the evening. Will was bind. Ruble could only use one hand. Abby wore ski gloves to limit the use of her hands. Lindsey had a developmental disability. (I asked her to take on this role because she has worked with this population.)
During our discussion, I had everyone eat a caramel candy and recite John 3:16. People shared their experiences. The following is some of their thoughts:
Eating Carmel Candy
· The caramel made speech more difficult and garbled, so I had to concentrate more on speaking. I could understand if that were a permanent condition, it could be a source of frustration if people didn’t understand, especially since it was so much effort to try to speak clearly.
· It was a sacrifice to my “social life: as, when I acted the part, people treated me differently. Some people talked to me with a baby voice.
· It was difficult to know how to act without being disrespectful to people who have this type of disability.
· It was very easy to get over stimulated when people were talking.
· It was hard to eat because I had to feel my food before I ate it.
· I got easily distracted.
Difficultly using hands (Wearing ski gloves)
· It was hard to do certain things.
· I found myself wanting to make sure someone was around to help me in case I needed it
· I couldn’t do things that required small or specific moments.
· It was uncomfortable and frustrating at times.
Having the use of one arm
· I felt annoyed by the inconvenience of having to adjust to doing basic things (like filling a plate at a buffet with food, getting the silverware, and pouring a glass of water) differently.
· I found the ability to still hold my infant son intensely pleasurable because with only one arm, holding him was all I could do. All of me was present in that act.
The evening ended with people sharing stories of experiences with people who have disabilities. One lady, a teacher, shared a student teaching assignment experience she had with a teacher who was blind. “The teacher was in complete control of her classroom,” she said. “She called out a student one day for disrupting the class. I didn’t even see it, but she knew it happened. That was the type of teacher she was.”
Have you had any encounters with people who have disabilities? Please post your answers.
TOPIC 3: SURVEY
Today’s post is simple. In our workshops we want people to begin to become aware of people with disabilities around them. You might see a man in a wheelchair crossing the street every now and then. But do you see him at Wal-Mart? A concert? School. Church?
Ten percent of the population in the United States is physically or mentally challenged. (Yes, I have just given you the first answer!) That means one out of ten has a disability. Look around. Do the numbers and what you see match up?
Of course not. And that’s the point. Keep that in mind as you complete this survey. As always, please feel free to post your answers…especially for this post as interaction is a must!
Thanks for going on this journey with me.
1. What percent of the population of the United States is physically or mentally challenged?
___ 2.7% ___ 9.9% ___ 13.6% ___ 19.3%
2. How many people with challenges (physical or mental) are there in your local fellowship?
3. Of these, how many can you name?
4. Put a check mark in front of those you are certain you could call by name.
5. Now circle those whom you are sure could call you by name.
6. In this group who would you consider to be personal friends? Put an “X” beside that mane.
7. Other than in a church setting, with whom of this group have you had fellowship?
–What did you do?
Now look at you neighborhood or the neighborhood around your church..
8. How many folks can you identify as physically or mentally challenged?
9. How many of them do you know?
10. Do you have something in common that you could, or do, talk about?
11. How much do you know about their interests?
12. Are you comfortable being with them as people?
13. How many have you spoken to about spiritual things?
14. In your heart do you feel that God has a special plan of salvation for these folks which is different from His plan for the world in general?
_____ Yes _____ No _____ Uncertain
Question 14 is key. Sometimes people think the disabled have it made, like they have a free pass to heaven. The Bible says otherwise. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3). It also says that if we don’t share the Good News, we have blood on our hands.
We all have the responsibility to share the Gospel to our friends and acquaintances. This includes people with disabilities. So, let me ask the question again: In your heart do you feel that God has a special plan of salvation for these folks which is different from His plan for the world in general?
This survey also helps people see how few people with disabilities are out in public. If your church has 150 members, are there 15 people with special needs? Probably not. But according to the stats, one out of ten people attending your church should have a disability.
I’m not a stats guy. I won’t come into you church, count your members, divide by ten, and shame you for not having ten percent of your church being disabled. That’d be ridiculous! But it does give you something to think about as you welcome people with disabilities at your church.
Topic four: Circle of Friends
Friends. We all need them. But sometimes getting and maintaining friendships can be hard especially for those with special needs. I remember one of the fears my parents and teachers had for me growing up is that I wouldn’t have friends. And, in a certain light, their fears came to light. I was closer to my teachers and aides than classmates. Some times that bothered me, but I usually just went with the flow.
Instead of hanging out with kids my own age, I loved tagging along with Barbara, my seventh grade aide. We were best friends for years, and Barb and I would go out to dinner, movies, and concerts. We were two peas in a pod. Age difference didn’t matter. I liked to hang out with older people, and Barb liked hanging out with younger folks.
In this post, we want to make you aware of friendships. They are important in any ministry. Albert Camus said, ““Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” To learn how to walk with someone with a disability, we need to consider what it takes to start and maintain friendships.
We can do this by looking at the Circle of Friends. The circles, as they are known, are seven circles, or levels, of friendship. Think of them as ripples in water. The bigger the circle, the more people there are, the smaller the circle, fewer. Each represents a deeper friendship with Christ at the center. Lets look at each circle.
Strangers are people we don’t know. They are everywhere! Walk down the street, into a store or a hotel and you’ll run into a stranger. There are strangers at church every week. (or should be if the church is doing its job right. But that’s a subject for another time!) Pretty simple.
Acquaintances are those we see every now and then. We might know their name. We say hi to them and talk about the weather. They are the Wal-Mart greeter (If you like me and go every day), the convenience store employee, or the security officer at work. I go to a little market up the street. I know the employees’ names, and they usually know what I want, but we don’t know each other’s kids names or where we live.
Causal friends are people we are starting to develop a relationship. We know each other’s name and perhaps one or two other things. I have dozens of these friends at church. I’m thinking about my friend, Rob. Rob goes to my church, and he and his wife home schools their five kids. He is a swim coach and actually knows my brother’s college coach. I’ve never had a meal or did a Bible study with Rob, but we are comfortable to share a little of our lives.
Close Friends are friends we spend time with. Think about Jesus’ disciples or a small group. We have meals and share our lives with one another. We know birthdays, anniversaries, and details of our lives. Over the years, my small groups have been my lifelines. People drive my van to meetings, help me with getting food, and make sure I’m comfortable. We begin to talk about our hopes and dreams and are there for each other in bad times.
Intimate friends are a few people who you can sit down and have intimate conversations. You can express your sins to these friends without feeling judged. Dan and Joel are two of my intimate friends. Dad was my best man at my wedding and has been there for me in good times and bad. Joel is my pastor, and we usually get together about once a month to catch up with each other’s lives. Both Dan and Joel know my highest highs and my lowest lows. There aren’t too many of these friends in our lives, but they need to be there.
The you and me circle is our relationship with ourselves. It’s important we like to be around ourselves because let’s face it: it’s the only relationship that will last. Many times people affected with disabilities don’t like themselves. I have experienced this. Disability can cause self-hated. There are times when I hate my disability because it doesn’t allow me to live a life I want. But I’d destroy myself if didn’t like myself. If you noticed, each circle of friendship takes a little more work to keep those relationships going. This circle is no different. It takes work to maintain any friendship, and this one is no different.
The final and the littlest circle is Jesus Christ. Jesus is our best friend and is always there for us. Jesus himself calls us his friend (John 15:15). We can go to him at any time for any reason. This relationship is not only at the heart of Christianity it is the center of all of our other relationships. For if we have our relationship with Jesus right, we are usually right with the people around us.
Think about the Circle of Friends in your own life. Is your friendship with Jesus strong? How about with yourself, your family, small group, church and on and on? Now think about a person with a disability. I’ve been there when the circles collapse on themselves because no one came a side of me and not only be my friend but also introduce me to the true friend, Jesus Christ. It’s no fun, and that’s why we must bring people with disabilities in to the church. Not only does it develop friendships, but it also makes the church more complete.
Topic 5: Accessibility
What do you think of when you hear the word accessibility?
I posed that question to facebook a few weeks ago, and here are some answers I received.
- Ramps, automatic door openers, and large bathroom stalls. (I asked if this person thought about this because I – a person with a disability – asked the question, and she said yes. You’re probably thinking the same thing.)
- The wheelchair symbol
- No barriers
- Hospitable, comforting and welcoming to all people regardless of ability.
- Ability to access the community independently. Just because something or somewhere is “accessible” does not mean it can be accessed independently.
These are all reasonable answers, and I don’t think nobody would argue about any of these. Accessibility is important to talk here because without the church being accessible, people living with disabilities will not be able to access all the church has to offer. (That’s a big understatement!)
But accessibility is much more than physical barriers. Emotional and spiritual barriers are just as important. There might be a ramp for me to get into the building, but that wastes my time if my emotional and spiritual needs are not met.
Table one lays this out:
|Ramps, Automatic door openers, Elevator, Wide doorways, Parking.||Do I feel safe? Do I feel welcomed? Do I feel like I belong?||Does the building/space help me worship God?|
Another accessibility issue that is often overlooked is attitude of both the person living with the disability and the public. Getting into a building is only a step to inclusion. When a church is open to including to everyone, people who have disabilities won’t be at the margins. They will be involved in the life of the church. The same principles of physical, emotional, and spiritual are at work here as seen as in table two
|Do people interact with the person with the disability? Does the person with the disability interact with other people?||Appropriate interaction with each other feelings. The ability to laugh, cry, and enjoy each other.||The ability to laugh, cry, pray, and enjoy each other in the presence of the Lord.|
Let’s dig deeper and get personal. In order to be socially accepted in a church setting (or anywhere for that matter), we must value ourselves and see ourselves as God sees us. There are two ways of looking at this: inwards and outwards.
Inward accessibility looks at what a person does with his thoughts and actions. These are learned behaviors, certainly, but they should become natural. For example, I had to be taught that making eye contact and shaking hands are the best way to make and keep friends. I raise my chair to people’s eye level to have a conversation. When done right, people wouldn’t even notice these things because they come across naturally.
|Is the person open to extend a handshake, eye contact, and patience to listen?||Offer genuine acceptance, understanding the true value of all people||Seeing all believers as children of God capable of not only worshiping but also serving our Wonderful Savior.|
People notice outward accessibility. Yes, it’s my responsibility to comb my hair, for example, but folks will notice it. I understand that I am God’s child, but my actions are put to the test. I do not merely listen to the word. I do what it says. (James 1:22) I’m able to set realistic goals and participate in the Kingdom of God.
Table four shows how this work.
|Present one clean and well groomed for all situations, socially appropriate.||Understand self-value without hypocrisy. Show appropriate level of maturity||Set realistic goals for spiritual growth and Christian service, without demanding one’s rights. Allow God to open doors.|
As we have seen, accessibility is much more than a ramp or a bathroom with bars. Those things are totally necessary, no doubt, but they only cover a small part of the issue. I may get into trouble for this, but physical accessibility is sometimes low on my list.
Some friends of mine own a building called The Just Living Center. It’s where a lot of my church’s activities are held, including my small group. Does it have an automatic door opener? No. Someone has to hold the door for me. An accessible bathroom? No. I have been known to do my business in my friend’s office. Many people would have a problem with these things, and they might be right. It could be better.
For me, however, the Just Living Center offers me much more than an accessible bathroom. I go there for my emotional and spiritual needs. I’m challenged to set those goals for spiritual growth and I am included in a group that invites me to do life together. Access to these needs means much more to me than having a place to go to the bathroom.
(I’m only there for a few hours a week. I’d need better accommodations if I were there every day. I know my friends would work with me.)
Accessibility must include everything! My best experience about this happened years ago. I was in a store when I had to go to the bathroom. Got into the bathroom, did my thing, got myself back together…but there was one problem. I couldn’t get out. I shouted for help and pounded on the door. Nobody came. Nobody asked if I was okay or told me what was happening.
A fire fighter opened the door ten minutes later. Someone had called 911! I wheeled out of the bathroom, thanked him, and went on with my day. I didn’t bother looking back, but I’m sure months were opened. I wonder if the fire fighter was as dumbfounded as I was about why someone didn’t open the door before calling 911.
Two postscripts to this story: The same store now has a sign that says, “Bathroom is for paying customers only.” I think that’s hilarious! Back in high school, a teacher wrote a recommendation for me and under the question, “Is the student resourceful?” she wrote, “calls 911 to get out of the bathroom!”
How about your place of worship? Laws are in placed these days to require buildings to have ramps, elevators, door openers, parking spaces, and accessible bathrooms and that’s nice and all, but that only solves a part of the problem. A truly accessible church recognizes the value of all people and strides to meet people’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Topic 6: We verses They
My mother used to bowl on Wednesday mornings when I was in elementary school. She used to tell me about the people who were from the local group home bowling in the next lane.
“They smelled of urine,” she told me. “They had holes in their cloths and food on their faces. I don’t want that for you.”
I used to hate being around “disabled people.” “They” weren’t like me. I was so much better and smarter than them. This was my attitude toward people who lives with disabilities for years. I didn’t want people to lump me in that group.
Read the opening sentences again. What catches your eye? If you said that each of the sentences opens with the pronoun “they” you are correct
They, their, them and those pronouns are very dangerous. (Just look at the Back Lives Matters deal that is going on today.) It pits people against each other, divides rather than bringing together.
When we speak to churches and present this workshop, we want to remind people to be aware of language. When we say something like, “Those people have their special class room in the basement” or “those people are not welcomed in the service,” we are not welcoming people who are living with disabilities. We are at best tolerating them, shunning them at worst.
When churches are truly accepting of people, this language goes away. It’s replaced with a welcoming, open attitude. People with disabilities are a part of the church, and the church is a part of them. A classroom may still be needed to serve people with severe needs because they do better in that setting, but it’s no longer “that classroom.” It’s “Our church has a safe place for Kevin so he can learn about Jesus and the entire family can rest in the Lord’s presence.”
It’s about attitude.
It has taken me years to realize that I can be around people who live with developmental disabilities without worrying about being lumped in with them. I learned that I must know myself and that God loves me before I can love others. Once I understood His love for me, I’m able to give away love to others.