When I was growing up in Arizona, my parents took my brother and I to volunteer at a Christian ranch where adults with disabilities could live. They were able to pursue basic trades and sell what they created. There were all types of adults, and all types of disabilities, but what we learned is that they were all people, deserving our love and respect. And many of them surpassed us in their joyfulness and good humor.
We also attended a small church out in the country. Quite a few former cowboys, and other rugged, independent types that you find in small towns, and especially in the American West. But, every Sunday, a van full of our friends from the ranch came to the church, and so we worshipped and fellowshipped alongside these wonderful brothers and sisters. After a while, we didn’t notice their disabilities as much, and grew to appreciate the unique ways that God had gifted each one of them.
What was notable about this situation was that this was not some official “ministry” of the church–it was just the church welcoming people with disabilities into our life, community, and fellowship. This is the vision that Stephanie Hubach presents in her helpful book–Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability.
When the Hubachs welcomed a son with Down Syndrome into their family, they were forced to rethink everything, including their own view of disabilities. Hubach’s book is written with a solid theological framework. She challenges unbiblical views of disability, and presents a Biblical understanding of how to understand disabilities. But, the book is not just theoretical. It is full of stories and real-life examples of life with disabilities, and presents many helpful action items to help families be more proactive in supporting families and individuals. She also details how churches can adjust their overall attitude and approach to various aspects of church life, in order to actively welcome people with disabilities.
This book doesn’t have all the answers, and Hubach would be the first to admit that. Rather, the emphasis is one the priority of real relationships with families and individuals dealing with disabilities. Effective ministry always takes place in the context of real relationships, and that context is especially important when loving those with disabilities well.
This book is probably most helpful for those who are not actively dealing with the burdens of disabilities. I’ve struggled with debilitating arthritis in the past, and I know that I wasn’t really interested in reading a book on disabilities at that time. I was too busy trying to deal with the pain, walking with a cane, and not being able to put on my own socks and shoes! What spoke to me most deeply were the love and care from our church, and from friends. Now that I’m on the other side of that crisis, our family tries to serve others with the same love that we were shown.
So, should your church start a disability ministry? Perhaps. But it’s more important for your church to be a place where all are loved and welcomed. As we actually become friends with people and families affected by disabilities, then we can think more creatively about how to include them, support them, and modify what we’re doing, so we can serve them more effectively.
In all of this, we are simply following the example and model of Jesus, who loved us first, and helps us carry our burdens. Let us go and do likewise …