So when do we care?



If at all you ever think about disabilities what direction do your thoughts take? I guess it might depend on your circumstances and time of life. If you are about to become a parent you might find yourself praying for a hale and hearty baby and doing everything in your power to ensure that you protect your unborn baby from the risk of disabilities. Babies and toddlers need vaccinating against the worst of childhood diseases like polio and measles. Parents of youngsters constantly worry about their propensity for climbing and speed and the associated risk of injury from accidents. Later there may well be a whole slew of years when the idea of disabilities never enters your head…you and your children are sensible, and safe and have got by very well until now. But then comes old age, failing eye sight, a realisation that you are not hearing as well as before, stiffness and perhaps even some of the nastier illnesses of later life like Parkinson’s disease or a stroke that leaves you unable to move on one side; chronic arthritis or dizziness and falls resulting in broken bones and difficult rehabilitation.

So when do we as church need to care about our response to people with disabilities? I was wondering how the man with the withered hand in Mathew 12:9-13 became like that and also the ten people with leprosy in Luke 17:11-19, do you think they contracted leprosy as children or had to leave their homes and jobs as adults? We are told that the man in John 9 was born blind and there are loads more examples in scripture that should get us thinking. I always have a chuckle at Ecclesiastes 12 with its vivid description of decrepit old age.

If there are all these possibilities then perhaps we should be getting our response to disabilities sorted out now. Maybe church does have a responsibility to be informed and open and welcoming to all people with disabilities because at any moment it could be us who become a disability statistic. I would not wish to be left out. As a young parent of a child with disabilities I would feel so sad if my child could not go out with the rest of the children for Sunday School or if I could not come to church at all because there was no one available to care for my child whose disabilities preclude him from attending church. As a young adult on crutches or in a wheelchair I want as much fun with the youth group as anyone else. And as a faithful member of a congregation for many years I do not want to find myself unable to receive communion because I can’t climb the stairs or be unable to join the singing of hymns because the words on the screen are not clear enough to read and there is no large printout for me to read in my seat.

In church recently I found myself sitting next to the father of one of my friends who is visiting for a while. I know he has become deaf in his old age and I was acutely aware that he could not always understand what was being said. I wondered what we could have done to make the service easier for him to follow. The notice sheet handed to everyone as they enter was especially helpful that week as it included not just the scripture portion but also an outline of the message, so he could have followed that if he had wished to. If the verses used to lead us into a time of worship and confession had been displayed on the screen it would have been helpful. These are small changes that would be fairly easy to implement as a routine.

Before posting this blog I had a chance to ask my friend’s father about his experience in our church. He did not answer my question but told me instead that he had recently visited a home for children with disabilities run by The Missionaries of Charity sisters. He said he had asked if the children could hear and when he found out that they could he got permission to sing with them and share a Gospel message. That elderly man has been an enthusiastic Christian and evangelist for many years, church in India needs such people, we do not want to lose their wisdom and experience for the want of a little thoughtfulness and imagination in the way we make services inclusive for everyone.






Salt and Light or not?


The conversation between Joan and her boss went something like this:-

Joan: “Did you enjoy the Mother’s Day service in church this morning, I see you have a lovely posy of flowers?”

Boss: “No, not really as they will insist on letting the “retarded” children from that home down the road attend church. They really should not do that.”

When I heard about that conversation I was reminded of a different occasion when a nursing friend found herself in a hospital lift accompanying a badly burned and disfigured little girl with disabilities. Another passenger in the lift loudly proclaimed “Such people should not be let out.”

The stories sound almost the same don’t they? Children with disabilities being scorned by women for being out in general society. But there is a difference; Joan’s boss was Christian, we do not know about the woman in the lift. It was hard to spot that difference though. Does it matter?

The way we see and behave towards other people in society must be shaped by our being Christian so it is worth looking at what should drive that difference.

Scripture tells us we are all made in God’s image (Gen.1:26). John Wyatt* says “that God has chosen no other image bearer, either animate or inanimate on planet earth.” If you look in a mirror what you see is an image, or a reflection of yourself. There is no reflection without the mirror. So it is for us, we reflect God’s image. We are dependent as without God there is no image.

John Wyatt continues by reminding us that unlike secular thinking “in Christian thought the dignity of a human resides not in what you can do, but in what you are, by creation. Human beings do not need to earn the right to be treated as godlike beings. Our dignity is intrinsic.” If it is true for me as a human being then it is true for all human beings including of course, those with disabilities.

So, as Christians the way we respond when we are confronted with disability can be perfectly reasoned; here we have another human being and since all human beings and only human beings, are made in the image of God they must be treated as godlike beings, with all that implies.

My way of dealing with people has tended to be shaped by Luke 6:31 which teaches to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is of course precious scripture. But, I am flawed, and I live amongst similarly flawed people so I could be hurting and may have been treated badly and be incapable of recognising how I should be to others. By contrast, the God in whose image we are all made is perfect and the different kinds of people I meet are a reflected image of the perfect God. Since they are godlike they are obviously fully worthy to receive the very best of me. And the very best of me is manifested in the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22) – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness as well as acceptance of people just as they are.

You might remember reading about Shreya in an earlier blog, she has Downs Syndrome and attends DBF South Church in Delhi. To mark International Day for People with Disabilities (IDPwD) Shreya was invited to read John 3:16 during the church service. She was accompanied by her Mum who pointed out the words one by one as Shreya read them. At the end she belted out heartily “Jesus Christ loves you.” The church family responded joyfully and afterwards many members of the congregation greeted and congratulated her. Including Shreya in the service and praising and encouraging her and her parents is an illustration of the difference that will make people say that they know we are Christians by our love.

*John Wyatt: “The New Biotechnology” in Issues Facing Christians Today by John Stott.