Saturday, October 20, 2012

After We've Dried Our Tears...

“What have you learned in your seminary courses that you think will help you as you minister to people with disabilities?”  The professor scanned the room, pointing when a hand was raised.

“Sometimes one of the best things you can do is shut up and cry.”

The professor bit his lip and nodded in acknowledgement.  “Well said.”

How do we minister to people with disabilities?  What do we do when we are confronted with the reality that there are over 40 million Americans living in the United States with a disability who are not institutionalized?  They are the people we see in schools, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and churches.  While many of us default to thinking about children and their pediatric conditions, the reality is that for most Americans, disability occurs after the age of 18.  

While reading through the gospels, the thing that has been jumping off the pages at me lately is the fact that Jesus saw the people with disabilities who were around him and intentionally reached out in ministry.  

How do we follow this model in 2012?

I think it starts small, often times just by showing up.  I can tell you from personal experience that one of the most gripping challenges of living with a disability is loneliness; not just in the sense of not being around people, but being alone in your experience.  So many people care, but they just cannot relate to your life and this can be very isolating.  

So, show up.  Share a meal together, watch a movie, or volunteer your time.  Grab a friend and babysit children with special needs so their parents can spend time dating.  Be willing to have courageous conversations, ones that may take you to places where the most compassionate reaction is to patiently listen and quietly weep.  

But what do we do after we’ve dried our tears?

I’ve been pondering this lately.  Ministering to people with disabilities can be very individualized, complex, and draining. Here are a few resources I’ve stumbled upon that have been helpful.

1.        Consider attending the Disability Conference in Minneapolis on November 8th.  This conference is the first of its kind sponsored by John Piper’s ministry, Desiring God.  

2.       Turn on your iPad!  I did a search within iTunes and found a whole seminary course called A Theology of Suffering, Disability, and the Church.  There are over 100 video segments of lectures facilitated by doctors, therapists, people with disabilities, missionaries, and theologians discussing topics from grief, family counseling, and bioethics, to pastoral ministry, biblical views of suffering, and personal testimonies.  It’s packed full of information and absolutely free!  

3.       Realize that disability ministry is a global issue.  I tolerate travel, but I know some of you relish it.  The availability of specialized health care is so much more accessible in the United States than it is in third world countries.  This reality compels so many people to go!  Beyond Our Door Global and Wheels for the World are two organizations I know of that minister in this capacity, but I’m sure a quick Google search will reveal more. 

Want a closer look?  The video I’ve embedded below presents some challenging thoughts from Joni Eareckson Tada on suffering and disability ministry that were shared at Dallas Theological seminary last year.  At 17:18, Joni shares about what her ministry is doing to alleviate the pain of suffering of people with disabilities in Haiti.  Good stuff!

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