A special call to serve children
“The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” Jesus said in dismissing the disciples’ reprimand.
Jesus’ response 2,000 years ago makes us wonder how our Savior would react to modern-day Christians who fail to welcome — or worse yet, shoo away — children with special needs such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism. Heaven forbid that other parents endure the heartbreaking experience of Seth and Claire McElvaney, who have two children with autism and a third with Asperger’s syndrome.
As the McElvaneys recount in this Christian Chronicle story about a North Carolina congregation’s special-needs ministry,their previous church made it clear the children were not welcome.
“I just can’t fathom an experience like what Seth and Claire have hadfrom a church,” said Dennis Conner, body life minister at the BrooksAvenue church in Raleigh, N.C. “And yet we hear that story over andover and over.”
From the Brentwood Oaks church in Austin, Texas, to the Brentwood Hillschurch in Nashville, Tenn., we praise God for congregations thatrecognize the biblical imperative to embrace all God’s children andwrap them in Christ’s loving arms, regardless of whether they run intothe aisle at an inopportune time or make a noise that disrupts a prayer.
Not every church has the resources or expertise to start a ministrylike the one at Brooks Avenue. But every congregation can extendcompassion and kindness. Every congregation can commit never to turnaway a child because of a handicap or disability.
Praise God for the love that so many Christians demonstrate:
• The Highland church in Memphis, Tenn., has offered a Parents NightOut during which members take care of special-needs children.
• The Goodman Oaks church in Southaven, Miss., hosts a Down syndrome awareness picnic.
• Camp Manatawny in Pennsylvania brings smiles to children with special needs through its “Camp Sonshine.”
• A baby born with Down syndrome and club feet prompted a Washingtoncouple to start a ministry called Little Hands, Big Hearts.
These are just a few examples, and we apologize for the many we haveneglected to mention. But a reward is reserved in heaven, we believe,for those who minister to God’s special children.
Churches that launch such programs soon discover that they’re not justministering to the children — but also to their parents. Like theMcElvaneys, many feel isolated and even alienated. Finding Christianswho love, accept and care for their children draws these parents intothe church family. Special-needs ministry can be a form of evangelism,providing families from outside our fellowship with services they can’tfind elsewhere.
Praise God, too, for Christian educators who have taken a lead in bringing attention to this issue.
“Let All the Children Come to Me: A Practical Guide to IncludingChildren with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries” is the name of abooklet published in 2006. It grew out of conversations at AbileneChristian University in Texas by professors MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hoodand Jerry Whitworth.
If you get a chance, welcome a child with special needs into your congregation.
If you’re unsure of the best way to serve that child, don’t be afraidto say so. Visit with the child’s parents and let them help you. Buy acopy of the practical guide prepared by the ACU professors. Call aministry leader at a congregation that has experience in this area andlearn from that person’s wisdom.
May Jesus’ words guide our hearts and actions: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.”
FeedbackAs the mother of a special needs child, I really appreciated this article. Our daughter, Erin, is 2 years old, yet functions at about the 6-8 month level and is still undiagnosed as to why she is so delayed. My husband and I have been so thankful for the loving support of our congregation. Even though we currently have no specific “special needs ministry,” we have never gotten harsh looks when our daughter will make noises during services. I am so thankful to God for our loving church family, and I’m glad there are programs in other places. Perhaps someday God will lead us to start our own ministry for these very special angels.Dawn MathiasEast Allen County c.o.C.Fort Wayne, IN
USADecember, 12 2009I Cor. 12:7 tells us that EVERYONE is gifted by the Holy Spirit. Individuals with disabilities minister to their churches in many ways: laughter, unconditional love, trust, acceptance and joy, to name a few. Special needs programs are nice but not necessary. All that is needed is an attitude of openness to the gifts these brothers and sisters bring us, along with an extended hand and the word “Welcome!” Kathleen Bolduc, author of Autism and Alleluias (Judson Press 2010)www.kathleenbolduc.comKathleen Deyer BolducCollege Hill Presbyterian ChurchCincinnati, OH
USADecember, 2 2009