On a daily basis, I cull voluminous amounts of information on special needs for the families we serve. This past weekend, as I was going through articles filtered by my Google screen, I ran across this: Why are special needs kids allowed in public schools? Now, for those who are not necessarily techno-savvy, you should know that these Yahoo forums allow for people to ask pretty much of anything unless or until someone flags it as inappropriate. The student posing this question goes on to express frustration with kids whom he feels are not “tolerable” because they “disrupt the class and need constant attention”. My stomach turned as I read him going on to explain that he cannot concentrate on his work when he hears other kids making guttural sounds, and gets annoyed when the teacher has to slow down the pace of the class to accommodate these kids.
My indigestion didn’t just rise up because of how hurtful this student’s remarks would be to those I serve, but also because I have long assumed that there are many students who feel the same way in inclusive classrooms across this nation. The sad thing is that we can change protocols in public schools, but that doesn’t necessarily change hearts. Additionally, one size does not fit all. We know that there are many kids in America who are “mainstreamed” when they truly do need the help of a separate class.
Shortly after running across this post, I ran across another that was at the opposite end of the spectrum: Why do people treat special needs kids different? In this Yahoo question, an individual with special needs talks about being taken advantage of financially. It is clear in this brief posting that this child just wants to be treated with acceptance and friendliness like their peers.
After reading these 2 posts, my mind suddenly wandered, thinking, What if we could bring both these kids in the same room together to talk? What would they say to each other? Would both their needs be met? Would they grow in acceptance of one another? Could both of their questions be answered simply by spending some time together?
While these challenges are social-cultural, it seems to me that the church is uniquely positioned to help people on both ends of this spectrum. Society may not be able to bring individuals to a place of heart change, but the Body of Christ surely can. Providing simple social opportunities for people of all abilities to come together and dialogue about a variety of issues certainly offers opportunity for transformation. And the presence of the One and only transformational God grants our ministry the ability to achieve what the secular world cannot.
What are YOU doing to build a bridge between “typical” and “disabled” individuals? How would you use your ministry to address irritations, lack of acceptance and even intolerance? What are some transformational measures you can think of to help reshape hearts?
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I tell people now, and I will til I’m dead, I am just a dumb, obedient servant of God. When the Lord tapped on my shoulder and called me to serve parents raising children with special needs a decade ago, I felt like more of a follower than a leader. But, I will maintain, I think He chose me so that He wouldn’t have a leader that would get in the way. In other words, I am a leader that is perpetually aware that I cannot direct, guide, develop, envision and inspire of my own ability, but only by God’s.
The past 10 years clinging to Christ, I have found my way as a leader by being a learner. There are 2 main ways this has been effective for me:
- The Listening Leader — My hope is that I always come across to others as a leader who listens. Since I know I have much to learn, I always want to hear and weigh the viewpoints of other people. That means that I listen to those who are on my teams doing the work, esteemed colleagues, and supportive outsiders who have something to contribute to our ministry. Because I am ready to hear what others have to share, I have quickly picked up critical information on how to locate grants, ascertained who the best local vendors are for events, discovered how to fashion and execute a vision, identified where our teams need shoring up, and determined what we are doing that is most impactful with the parents we serve. The high yield of listening in leadership cannot be overstated.
- The Discovering Leader — Like a ravenous child, I have devoured a wide variety of information on leadership over the years. Reading books and attending conferences are part of my repertoire. But daily beefing up of skills has been crucial to me as well, using videos, articles, and blogs to grow my skills. Eventually, I have discovered which resources I find most helpful, and have left by the wayside those that aren’t worth my time. Of note is the fact that while there are copious amounts of wonderful resources available on Christian leadership, there is little information by Christian thought leaders on special needs ministry leadership.
I am grateful that when God calls, He equips. Not having the organizational, planning, technical, seminary, medical, or management skills of many other special needs ministry leaders, my experience has proven to demonstrate that the Lord can still do the extraordinary with ordinary hearts who are willing.
Photo Image Courtesy of: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Men, don’t tune out! You may want to roll your eyes and write this entry off to the “church ladies” responsible for coordinating potlucks, but this is for YOU too. When looking at the overall strategy of our special needs ministries, aid and comfort to those we serve is of paramount importance. That’s why you or those you lead should be finding some way to connect your adherents to help with meals in times of extra difficulty. Surgeries, hospital stays or other challenges such as moving or loss of a job are times where this simple act of kindness can be a big blessing.
TakeThemAMeal.com is the perfect tool for these times. It never ceases to amaze me that there are people out there who still don’t know about this terrific, free, web based means to coordinate a food schedule. A speedy, user-friendly platform, the person coordinating meals merely sets up the schedule for the recipient, listing the duration and frequency of the need. Any food sensitivities, dislikes, allergies or preferences can be detailed. Once the page is set up for the recipient, it can be shared with anyone in their circle of family, friends, coworkers, fellow church members or neighbors by e-mail, Facebook or even on their Caringbridge page. Take Them A Meal does all the coordinating, reminding and contacting from that point on. People choose a date on the calendar that hasn’t already been taken. Once they sign up for a date, they are reminded by the platform of their commitment. The recipient can also look online to see if a meal is coming that day, what the meal is, and who is bringing it. There is a connected blog that provides etiquette tips, as well as a page with links for recipes. The entire system is pure genius in my humble opinion.
Recently, we had a family that has multiple children with special needs find themselves in a precarious position. The father was undergoing serious surgery that would require the mother to be away with him at the hospital for a stretch of time. People of good will wanted to step up and provide them with meals for their large family. With children on the autism spectrum that are challenged eaters and others who have food allergies, carry out gift cards where the family could make their own food choices were a much better option. Yet, the wife was concerned about offending any of the well-intentioned who wanted to cook a meal. We set up a Take Them A Meal page for the family and circumvented the worries about etiquette by specifying on the page that all meals should be provided only in the form of a gift card. It was the perfect way to get them the help that they needed, the way that they needed it, without the family having to be put in an awkward position.
If your ministry or your church has not yet tapped into this easy, helpful tool, add it to your war chest today!
See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17, NKJV)
So be careful how you live. Live as men who are wise and not foolish. Make the best use of your time. These are sinful days. Do not be foolish. Understand what the Lord wants you to do. (Ephesians 5:15-17,NLV)
A couple of weeks back, our colleague, Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry, wrote an excellent, thought-provoking post on what he perceives to be “Ten priorities for the disability ministry movement…“. While many of his listed priorities focus on best practices and effective models, I find his fifth stated priority to be one that each and every person can improve upon right here and now. That step is best described as perfecting the art of sharing our own story to a point that will compel others to action.
What has quickened my heart to this priority is the latest horror we witness unfolding in the world. By now, most of us have seen the heart-wrenching photos and stories from the confirmed chemical attacks on the citizens of Syria. Given known statistics, we can safely assume that there were children with special needs who died in these assaults, never having had the opportunity to know Christ. That should break our hearts!
Turning back to our local areas of service, our hearts should be no less broken. Every day we can read dark stories in the news of those who are disabled being abused, neglected, dying in tragic bus accidents or losing the battle with their chronic illness. Churches continue to alienate families who don’t fit into their program norms. Our greatest priority should be recalibrating ourselves towards what our essential mission actually is — To make Christ known and facilitate relationship with Him in the disability community (including caregivers) as a whole. All of our other priorities can be summarized in that one mission.
Dr. Grcevich points out that many leaders in the special needs ministry arena are parents of children with some sort of diagnosis. I fall under that category. I often worry that people are sick of hearing our family’s story. Yet, Grcevich is correct in saying that those stories still need to be heard. Leaders like me can easily forget that, while we live 24/7 with the story of how connection to Christ is an essential component to our joy despite severe trials, others need to hear it again and again. Our stories encourage those who need Jesus and open the eyes of a church that doesn’t know what a huge mission field we represent.
While we struggle with best practices and trying to figure out how to get pastors on board with welcoming those who have any number of challenges into the church body, we must not let time slide by without making the most of every opportunity to tell our story to any who will listen. The world sits on the precipice of World War III. Life-saving health care remains a frightening uncertain for so many. And the world’s morals continue to circle the drain. Any chance we have to reach just one more person affected by special needs with the message of eternal hope in Jesus is one we best not slip by. The time is short indeed. Our noble goals do not present an either/or decision or strategy that must be necessarily executed in succession. While we wrestle with the answers, let us keep telling the stories critical to making Christ known to a desperate world.
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Back in June, I wrote a piece on the emergence of stories where children were refused certain medical care involving their special needs. In it, one of the stories I shared was about 10 year old Sarah Murnaghan, who battles Cystic Fibrosis. Sarah was denied a critically-needed lung transplant in part because of her age. Treated with cold refusal by our current administration in Washington, this little girl’s life was actually saved by the decision of a federal judge who issued a restraining order against the US Department of Health and Human Services. That order kept the HHS from enforcing their policy of only allowing transplant of adult organs into children ages 12 and older in Sarah’s case. Subsequently, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius instructed the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to waive the rule.
I urged fellow leaders at that time to be aware that these sorts of things are going on in our culture, so that we can support suffering families through them. We need to be prepared to fight alongside them, to make the case that every life has value. And when government programs or medical methods fail, we need to strengthen and encourage them so they can see that there is a Hope that goes far beyond anything this world can offer.
To God’s glory, Tuesday, Sarah Murnaghan was discharged from the hospital. While she still has a long road on her recovery, her body seems to finally be taking the second lung transplant given to her this summer. As news stories rejoicing in her homecoming were posted on the web, comments devaluing this girl’s right to be alive resumed. This only goes to show that we have a long way to go as human beings in understanding how God views each precious life He creates.
Friends, make the most of every moment in the same way Sarah and her family have. Share Psalm 139 again and again with people, so they know the intimacy of their Creator. Continue to support and fight for those with disabilities. Our voice on their behalf becomes more critical every day. Sarah Murnaghan’s case is just one small example of the difference each of us can make if we persevere together.