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Striving to Involve All in the Church

A Background

I honestly cannot say that I have had much contact with those with disabilities whether mental or physical. I do remember in high school of guy who was my age that was severely mentally handicapped. He was a very nice guy and hardly talked but by the time I graduated, he could say hi to me in the hall, would hug me, and I would frequently go sit next to him while he ate breakfast and chat, even though it always consisted of the same two or three questions and he always said the same thing to every question, “fine.” Unfortunately he got picked on but I did all that I could to be friendly to him because unknowingly to them, he did understand what they were doing. He may not have had the words to say it or the capability to but he knew that they were being mean to him. 

Five years ago my older brother began dating a woman that had two children, one of which has Asperger’s. Asperger’s (until recently) on the autism spectrum. He is now 12 and doesn’t do well with sarcasm. He takes nearly everything literally. He is incredibly smart and does very well in science and math courses, so much so that he is now enrolled in freshman level courses. He also doesn’t understand societal “norms.” He talks when he shouldn’t. He doesn’t understand sarcasm. He doesn’t understand that when you’re frustrated, you can’t push someone. To add to it, his 7 year old sister has better social skills than he does. 

Once in a while I get the opportunity (opportunity because his mom is not a Christian and my brother has fallen away) to bring my nephew and his sister to church with me. My niece does well as she’s very sociable and understands societal “norms.” However, my nephew gets looked at as if he’s weird or annoying. And even more, he’s avoided because he is different. I admit, it can be hard to talk to an overly exuberant 12 years old that yells most of the time that he is talking especially when he talks for 15 minutes about egg nog and bacon. He doesn’t understand when he should quit talking because he doesn’t understand the cues. 

Where is the church when it comes to those with special needs?

Notice that above I highlighted how the church has treated him. Did I mention that my nephew is currently fighting severe depression and even suicidal thoughts because of how he’s treated at school? So not only at school is he treated poorly but Christians treat him like he’s different because they don’t know how to act around him. 

My nephew is in no way easy to deal with sometimes. I can garantee you though that if you get to know him, he is one of the sweetest young men I know (although he still has that pre-teen quirk sometimes). He can be awkward and so can other kids with various special needs. 

I’ve heard story after story of those who struggle at church with family and friends with special needs. Why is that? 

Should church only be for those who are coherent or that can deal with societal “norms?”

Is there a dividing line between who should and shouldn’t be in church? 

What about salvation? Is there yet another line?

The fact is that special needs are in this world. Many have family or friends that are special needs in some way. I believe God will bless us for caring for these people. While we could discuss the role of sin in the world and disabilities, the simply fact is that we are faced with these situations. The above questions aren’t important until we realize that even towards these people, God expects us to be loving and kind to them. 

My nephew or anyone else should not go into a church and not feel loved and welcomed by those who call themselves children of God. My nephew and even myself should not feel as though he is being ignored or avoided because you think that he’s annoying or weird (although aren’t all 12 year olds a bit odd no matter the case?). 

We are Christians! We are called the children of God! If we have accepted Christ as our Savior, where are the fruits of such an action? Where is the love of God seen? Where is the ministry to those who need God but maybe need to be reached in a different way? Where are the pastors and lay people who will stand up for those that cannot stand up for themselves because they aren’t what society says is “normal?”

We need to find ways for people of all ability levels to serve Christ in the Church. When my nephew is older it would not surprise me if he got involved in graphic design or involved in controlling sound, etc. However, someone needs to look past his Asperger’s and see him as a young man who could reach others for Christ with a testimony of overcoming the challenges of Asperger’s and serving our Lord. 

Will you give someone that faces physical or mental challenges an opportunity to serve our Lord? Or will you allow them to continue to be pushed aside like a burden to the Church?

 

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