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Jesus Christ devoted much time and affection to the most vulnerable in society. The article below gives great insight into the inspiration and blessing that is experienced in the company of societies most vulnerable people. Tim Wood is Chief Executive of the Christian charity “Through the Roof”, who have a mission of preaching the gospel by educating the church with the Biblical perspective on disability. The article is very thought provoking and challenging:

One Body, Equal Parts?

Are the gifts of disabled people in church life invisible or indispensable?

Wow! I never knew I could be used by God like that!’ exclaimed Kate*, a University student, as she listened enthralled by Philippa re-counting her personal experience of a mission trip to Guatemala.

Philippa was born without eyes and depends on others to be her sight. Yet with her strong Christian faith, sheer determination, and a little assistance from the team, she forged a 4000 mile journey into the poorest region of Central America to enthuse and challenge local Christians to think differently about disability. Presenting her life experiences and testimony of God to church congregations, teachers and community workers she inspired many to grow in their faith and perspective of disability. One outcome of her trip is that several disabled children now attend a Christian school, where previously they weren’t welcome!

Philippa is Youth Ambassador for the Christian disability charity, Through the Roof, and whilst representing the organisation at a Christian student festival she met Kate, a student with Cerebral Palsy. After encountering Philippa, Kate caught a bigger vision of God, along with a fresh understanding of how to contribute to building the kingdom, in ways she hadn’t imagined.

Invisible

Statistics state that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty; more likely to be the victims of abuse, discrimination and hate-crime; and at greater risk of suffering actual violence; whilst also being easy targets for benefit cuts. Sadly, 72% of families with disabled children feel isolated and experience anxiety, depression and breakdown, with 49% seeking medical help. Disabled children are 17 times more likely to face barriers to personal relationships. This all translates into disabled people being the most likely people group to be excluded from, and therefore invisible to, mainstream society, and regrettably all too often, church life too.

Imagine if people always highlighted what you couldn’t do, or worse, what they perceived you couldn’t do. Whilst initially frustrating and annoying, these voices could lead to becoming self-fulfilling prophesies; destructive influences, stamping on any hope of what ‘could be’ in your life. Many disabled people endure this on a daily basis.

Now Jesus met many people with illnesses and disabilities, but I don’t believe Jesus ever saw a ‘disabled person’; he saw a person, a full and whole person, who may have had a disability but had much more to him or her than that… (Jesus) revealed there were many around who were far more disabled, paralysed by legalism and having suffered an amputation of compassion and care.’ (Nick Stanyon, from his article, ‘Full Humanity’, www.throughtheroof.org)

How many people with recognised or hidden disabilities are fully involved in the life of our churches? Are assumptions made about what disabled people can, or can’t, contribute?

Indispensable

The Bible is clear that we are all created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and that all have sinned and fallen short (Rom. 3:23), therefore every single human is equally valued, with infinite worth, yet equally in need of Christ.

It is also clear that every Christian has a part to play, and should be enabled to contribute to the Body of Christ. The Apostle, Paul, wrote a letter to the early believers in Corinth, correcting some divisionary practices. Writing about spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12), Paul likens the body of Christ, the church, to our physical bodies. Greek culture greatly admired the human form, having been accustomed to the Ancient Olympic Games, held in their country since 776 B.C., and so Paul’s readers would have appreciated the comparison. Today’s culture also reveres the ‘body beautiful’ but often the human body, mind and soul, so wonderfully designed by our Creator God, are dismissed if elements are considered different, less than perfect, or abnormal. The truth, however, is different.

Paul proclaims: ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and the parts we think are less honourable we treat with special honour…But God has combined the members of the body…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’ (1 Cor. 12:12,21-23a,24b-27)

Paul emphasises unity and oneness between Christians, while equally embracing diversity and perceived weakness in using gifts. We are all different with unique roles and yet together we are one. Many disabled people perhaps ‘seem’ to be weaker physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually, but Paul insists that such individuals are ‘indispensable’ to the church and appeals for an attitude of ‘equal concern for each other.’ The church isn’t complete without everyone’s involvement.

Interdependent

From personal experience, I have often received much more in return than I have given to disabled people. I have benefited from prayer, wisdom and discipleship from John, a wheelchair user and ordained Anglican minister who, until he became a missionary to Malawi, was one of our charity’s trustees. I have experienced the value of trust as a blind lady in unfamiliar surroundings accepted help from a stranger and I’ve learned patience from someone with a stammer. I have been lead in worship as an autistic girl with minimal speech slowly and falteringly sang, ‘This is my story, this is my song, praising my Saviour all the day long’. I have heard of prayers spoken by a young lady with Down’s Syndrome, who took the microphone in church to utter unintelligible prayers to God, inspiring a congregation to boldly speak from their hearts; and I’ve witnessed joy and bonds of unconditional love between a son with learning disabilities and his proud Dad.

In modern society which promotes independent individualism as the goal, 1 Corinthians urges us to live counter-culturally, to seek interdependence, regardless of abilities, and pursue mutual giving and receiving, as God intended – this is the vision of Through the Roof. To achieve this we offer publications, training, on-line resources and speakers with personal experience of disability, plus disability mission trips, to equip churches and Christians on the journey of including disabled people.

Included and involved

The 2012 Paralympics welcomed 4000 disabled sportsmen and women to London. The Games valued and recognised each competitor equally as an athlete, celebrated every individual’s God-given talent, and provided accessible facilities and assistance to ensure a truly rewarding and inclusive experience. Imagine if our churches were like that! The Paralympics motto is: ‘Spirit in Motion’. What could be achieved through ‘God’s Spirit in Motion’?

The Bible demonstrates that Jesus has always been at work in, with and through disabled people – accepting and including; befriending and loving; saving and healing…Will we have the faith to come alongside Philippa, Kate and others to involve their gifts as an indispensable part of church, so that in communion with one another we can give and receive life that reveals God’s kingdom more fully?

Tim Wood is Chief Executive of Through the Roof, and has twenty years’ experience of working alongside disabled people to bring about inclusion in community and church life. Contact: 01372 749955; info@throughtheroof.org; www.throughtheroof.org
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