Friday, April 27, 2018

Serving Individuals With Special Needs

The CDC just announced an almost 15% increase in the prevalence of autism at 1 in 59 kids.  With a staggering number like that it’s likely that you know someone affected by ASD.  As churches grow and seek to increase the kingdom of God, hopefully that will mean your church’s special needs population will grow as well.  I currently attend a small church plan in New Caney, TX and right now we do not have a special needs ministry as there is not a need yet.  However, one day there will be, God willing, and I know that our church family will welcome these individuals with open arms.  Your church may already have a special needs ministry and especially because the need will likely grow, I want to encourage you to serve those with special needs. 

Working with individuals with special needs can be challenging to say the least.  To say anything else just simply wouldn’t be true.  One of my son’s therapist once told me that she could only work part-time because the job was so emotionally demanding of her.  She’s very passionate about working with individuals on the autism spectrum and has a very upbeat personality.  But being “on” all the time is hard.  I don’t know about the demands of all special needs and disabilities, but I know with autism there are times of extreme joy and then times where things aren’t so great.  There are intense lows and with communication barriers, those lows are hard to navigate.  So why, knowing this, would anyone willingly offer to volunteer in a special needs ministry if they don’t have friends or family affected by disability? 

The Bible offers several reasons.  In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus says, “when you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.  For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Jesus is describing the type of loving kindness that truly requires nothing in return.  Serving individuals with special needs may not bring instant gratification.  You may not get to hear about the children you serve turning their life over to Lord or singing praise songs just like other kids.  Serving individuals that may not be able to care for themselves in even the simplest ways may not be the most admired or prestigious form of service and you may not see the fruit of your efforts immediately, but I believe that this form of service is an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ.  Believers are to demonstrate this radical love for people with disabilities and the poor and to any of those that cannot repay them because Jesus shows us that self-denying and self-sacrificial service is God honoring.  Jesus says that those are the times you will store blessings in Heaven. Matthew 25:40 says, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me'. Remember as you share the Gospel with the child that can’t sit still, or a child that is flapping and swaying, that you are loving them as you would Jesus.  It may be more difficult to serve in an area that can be challenging physically and emotionally, but its in those times that you serve when it is messy and ugly and hard that you will be blessed.

Typically, special needs families are coming in to a church longing for a sense of welcome and belonging.  They want a place that they can worship and feel that their children are safe and not a burden.  I urge you to see and serve these families as though you are viewing them through the lens of Christ and not man.  While the world says they are less-than or second rate, the Lord, in His sovereignty, has created them in His image and exactly how he wanted them.  I love when the Lord speaks to Moses and says in Exodus 4:11, "Who has made man's mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?" WOW.  God has a plan for each and every member of the body.  He has a special plan for His people, both you and I and the individuals with special needs in our church body.  If you are looking for a meaningful way to serve the Lord, won’t you consider helping in the special needs ministry? 

“12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-16

Monday, April 2, 2018

Encouragement in a Church Without a Special Needs Ministry

My husband and I are very blessed to be a part of a church plant in New Caney, Texas.  We came from a church in Atascocita with a faithful Pastor who had a vision to start planting autonomous churches within the greater Houston area.  That church had many missions minded ministries, one of which included the special needs ministry that my son was able to be a part of.  

My youngest of three children, Jacob, has severe autism.  He is almost 8 and has minimal speech, elopes from safety, and cannot attend to a Bible Study for 20 minutes.  Having a buddy system to help him behaviorally and to keep him safe as well as having curriculum adjusted to his needs was an enormous help to us.

So, when we stepped out in faith to follow a preacher that we didn’t know to a church plant that didn’t have a special needs ministry yet or enough volunteers for it, I was a little nervous for Jacob.  Nevertheless, we felt like the Lord wanted us to go, so we followed with eager anticipation to see the Gospel spread through our new Pastor and church.

Being a special needs parent can be pretty isolating at times.  We can’t go to peoples’ homes and attend events very often because of how much anxiety it causes my son.  Even standing in the lobby visiting with people can be hard when my son is trying to dart away.

However, when it came time for our church to start hosting Bible Studies in homes, our Pastor urged us to host one in our home.  This has been a spring of so much encouragement for us.  People come to our home every week and worship God and fellowship despite my son’s frequent interruptions of song and humming.  They laugh if he runs through the room full speed or when he takes a swig of their water or climbs in someone’s lap that he barely knows.  They don’t mind the sounds of every object in the house spinning in the background.  They even understand that we have to deadbolt them in our house with a key to prevent him from wandering outside.

These people coming into our home and seeing our wild and unusual life and still being joyful and present is so encouraging.  We feel connected in a deep and meaningful way.  Being a part of a small group has grown our faith tremendously as we pray for others and as they pray for us.  There have been times of profound sadness and stress when all I could do was cry and ask for prayer and they all stopped and prayed over us.  There have been moments of joy and triumph that we got to celebrate with them and those friendships have strengthened. 

What I’ve seen time and time again is that God is faithful.  He has provided encouragement for us in a way that we weren’t expecting, and we are so thankful for His provision.  God is so good.  We are so thankful.  I pray you find this type of encouragement in your local church.  People who love the Lord with all their heart will love and accept your family no matter how different.  I pray you find believers that can strengthen your faith and that you can serve alongside. 

This month is autism awareness month. With 1 in 68 children diagnosed, most likely you know someone affected by autism.  I urge you to reach out to them.  If you are inspired to find ways to encourage special needs families here are some helpful tips that I have experienced at my church:

  • ·         Encourage them to join a small group or bible study and to share their hardships and victories.  Pray for them and celebrate with them.
  • ·         If their child cannot be in the Worship Center, create a buddy system where people take turns caring for their child in Bible Study, so they can be free to worship.
  • ·         Show excitement rather than dismay when their child arrives at church, especially if their child is engaging in behavior that seems odd or different.
  • ·         Look at their child in the eyes and say hello. You may be surprised at how many people turn away instead of looking at individuals with special needs.
  • ·         Encourage your children to engage with special needs children.  I promise it will bless them and grow them.
  • ·         Go to them if you see them isolating themselves.  I find myself sitting alone with Jacob when he is having a hard day because I don’t want to disturb people. 
  • ·         Ask them how you can pray for them and then PRAY.