What Are Three Things That We As a Church Need to Be Aware of in Relating to Those Living With Disabilities and Their Families?

The children I come into contact with and the adults living with disability are not just this burdensome lot. They are ministers of grace themselves.

The Church is slightly at a disadvantage

The first is that when it comes to relating with those with disabilities, the church is slightly at a disadvantage because people with disabilities are underrepresented at church.

There are over half a billion to a billion people living with disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization and UNESCO. It seems like a crazy number, but it just turns into 20%. That means 1 in 5 people. This is such a huge part of the human condition and for it to be so underrepresented in our churches is unfortunate.

Reaching the marginalized is a huge part of God’s heart, and people living with disabilities are sidelined. Some of them are literally mute, and they can’t communicate even if they wanted to.

It’s important for us to create an avenue to which they could not just take part in worship, but also to tell the world that they are image bearers of Christ, they have a place in the world, and they have value in the heart of God. I just don’t think that conversation has been cultivated enough.


We should not lump people with disabilities together

The second thing the church should know is that we should not lump people with disabilities together. This takes away from each person’s unique human-ness and the value God gives him or her. Practically speaking, a church needs to ensure that we uphold their beauty and their uniqueness and not allow the diagnosis to define them.

My 5-year-old son has Down syndrome. If our church sees another little boy with Down syndrome walking through the door, my hope is that our access ministry would meet the boy himself, not his Down syndrome, and treat my son and him the same just because of they are living with the same disability.

We need to make sure that we look at these people as individuals and not as diagnosis.


a big global-sized paradigm shift

The third one is a big global-sized paradigm shift. It’s a challenge in a lot of Korean American churches or even U.S. churches. Our congregations have a little bit of a hierarchy, and that makes some things inaccessible to people with disabilities in a very quiet way.

In this framework, we are structured to think that certain people are better than others. But we need to dismantle our own ideas of being and doing something “of value,” “of success,” or “of worth,” and instead see what that value, success or worth is in the eyes of the Lord so we can uphold the true body of the Christ as all members.

That “of worth” dynamic is a very quiet one but a very significant one that we want to dismantle.

You can see the tension in how we view people with disabilities. For example, some people might say, “Oh, look at this ministry. It’s so sad, they have needs, and I want to reach out to them.”

That’s wonderful and compassionate, but it comes with that imbalanced power dynamic. Instead dynamic has to be, “We want to protect this person and support them because of their inherent value in Christ. I can be used as a vessel so we, alongside one another, can grow.”

This would be instead of, “Let me help you and minister to you.” There is a power dynamic there that I wish people could see.


Conclusion

The children I come into contact with and the adults living with disability are not just this burdensome lot. They are ministers of grace themselves. In my humble opinion, they are the most powerful ministers of grace to me, and I just want to make sure I can uphold that for them.


Jamie currently supports families with new diagnoses (birth to pre-K) and speaks about special needs parenting, advocacy and disability within the church. She sits on the board of a non-profit called Club21 (a learning and resource center for individuals with Down syndrome), and helped launch CCSC’s Access ministry (dedicated to facilitating full access to worship for those with special needs). On the rare occasion she is not spending time with her beloved family (husband Andrew, and children Shane (4) and Shiloh (2)), she enjoys reading, writing and resting in conversations with friends.