A number of years ago the general announcement was issued for an expo serving patients and families, also inviting exhibitors to display at the event. The demographics matched with those we aim to serve, so we proceeded to reserve our booth space. Much to my dismay, the host of the event refused our reservation stating that they wanted no affiliation with any religious organization. Known for our works of compassion with hurting parents, my outraged pastor even volunteered to step up and plead our case with the host. I refused his offer, having no desire to go where we were not welcome.
While it is the prerogative of any event sponsor to set guidelines on who they will or will not allow to participate, it is counterproductive when faith based organizations are shut out by the secular world. Of far more benefit to those with disabilities are bridges built in cooperation between secular and religious groups. Government organizations surely don’t have all of the resources they need. Matters of faith are also of huge concern to families with a loved one who has a special need. So, how do we overcome such obstacles? Here are some thoughts:
- Build relationships. We can never hear this principle enough. People like to work with others they know. If you build friendships and find personal common ground with those in secular work, those relationships can blossom into more.
- Be willing to cross promote. Trust is built and good will is shown when we are open to sharing the work of secular organizations with those we serve. Many non-religious organizations need avenues to reach more people. If we are willing to open one of those avenues, reciprocity is more likely.
- Live your mission. Rational or not, lay service providers can have tremendous fear that faith based providers will pressure and street evangelize at events. If those same providers see your organization merely loving people with excellence, just like Jesus did, those fears will be assuaged.
- Invite secular organizations to speak or share with your members. If you need a guest speaker or writer, a great way to connect can be to engage these government or non-religious groups. Most won’t think twice about sharing their expertise or services with your members.
- Network. Add value to those who shut you out by introducing them to new connections. When you are willing to make introductions, you become a valuable connection in your own right.
- Persevere. Even if you continue to be excluded, remaining warm and open can pay off in the long run. And if you continue to be shut out, at least you know that you are doing what is upright in the sight of the Lord.
Has your disability ministry been shut out by the secular world? If so, how did you deal with it? We would love to hear about it.