Karla (not her real name) was a leader in her church, teaching Sunday school and helping to organise many church activities. Gradually she began to lose her mobility, and felt she could no longer be a leader. Discouraged, she stayed at home. What was the point of going to church? She no longer felt wanted in her congregation and she became depressed.
It wasn’t just that she had to use a wheelchair. What affected Karla most was that she felt pushed aside.
It would be three years before she discovered that God’s love for each person, with or without a disability, is the same. Once she realised this, she felt she had something to offer. She started to attend church again and to teach. She began to work with other people with disabilities, sharing God’s love and helping them to see that they are important and needed in God’s community.
How can we make it easier for people with different kinds of disabilities to participate fully in church and community life? Below are some steps we can take.
Study the Bible to discover important truths
- Diversity is part of creation. We are all made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27–31; Psalm 139:13–16), but we are not all the same.
- We are all needed (see the image of the church as the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verses 21–23).
- Disability is not God’s judgement for sin (John 9: 1–3).
- God is in charge and gives gifts to those he chooses, whether they have a disability or not (Exodus 4:10–12).
Learn more about disability
- At least 15 per cent of the world’s population live with a disability of some kind. This is a huge number of people who are often forgotten and excluded.
- Every person, with or without a disability, is different! We need to forget stereotypes, and learn to appreciate everyone as individuals. There is no ‘them and us’. While few of us are born with a disability, many of us will experience disability at some point in our lives.
- Disabilities may be obvious, or they may be hidden (such as deafness). Learn about the many different types of disability and try to ensure that support is available for everyone who needs it. Be aware that, like Karla, people may be struggling with several types of disability at the same time, eg reduced mobility and depression.
- It is vital to ask people with disabilities how they can be helped to participate. Sometimes people lack confidence and need to be actively encouraged to use their gifts and talents to bless and enrich the church.