Our Church’s Journey to Reach Families with Disabilities

Jesus saw people with disabilities. He did more than notice them; he filled his house with them. He instructs us to do the same.

Another way to begin to consider disability in the context of the church is through the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14. Jesus prefaces the parable with an instruction: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Then Jesus tells the story of a man who gave a great banquet. When those invited turn down his hospitality, the man instructs his servant to bring in the poor, crippled, blind, and lame that his house might be filled.

 

Many Orthodox Presbyterian churches warmly welcome, encourage, and disciple people and families with disabilities. At Lakeview OPC in Rockport, Maine, we are learning that to minister to families with disabilities, you don’t need to be an expert; you just need a teachable and willing heart.

There is plenty of reading material on disability and the church, with interesting titles like “How Wide Is Your Door?” or “Through the Roof” or “The Inclusive Church.” But it was not reading any of these that set me thinking, or that pushed Lakeview OPC to learn. It was Finley.

Finley is one of God’s precious gifts to our church. He was born twelve years ago, a child of the covenant. His parents and grandparents are believers. He is fourth in a family of six children. At the time of his birth, we did not know there was a problem, but eventually, along with his mom and dad, we learned that the challenges were serious.

Recognized, Loved, and Honored

Around the same time, my own son, Mark, volunteered for one week as a short-term missionary at the Joni and Friends New England Family Retreat (see sidebar on page 8). This retreat provides five days of respite for families who are affected by disability. Each family has at least one companion assigned to them, called a short-term missionary. Mark wasn’t driving yet, so my wife and I went to pick him up at the end of the retreat. We arrived in time for the closing ceremony, walking into a gymnasium with about three hundred people in it. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there were children with disabilities. Just then, in came Andrew. That year, he was not in his wheelchair. Having just had several surgeries, he was in a kind of small, solid stretcher. He had two buddies assigned to him, and they carried him everywhere as though he was in an old-fashioned sedan chair. Mark later told me that everywhere they went, the buddies would shout, “Make way for the king!” Andrew was grinning a big grin as he came in the room.

Then the slideshow began. As a picture of each child came onto the screen, there were whoops and hollers and cheers. Here were little people, made in the image of God, in a place where they were being celebrated just for being themselves. They were being recognized and loved and honored. They were noticed; not pitied, not mocked, not hidden from sight.

I must tell you that I cried. I didn’t know what to say. And to be frank, I still don’t know what to say.

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