Author Archives: @elimcs

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Changing attitudes about differences

The email was to the point. “The student services department at Crown Point Christian is putting on a chapel on March 21. The theme is friendship and accepting those who are different.”

They wanted a speaker to help them spread the message. However, I would only have 10 minutes, and I knew a thorough presentation of The 5 Stages would be too much for that time. So I decided to do my fallback: talk about Ephesians 2:10.

This verse has proven to my failsafe way to Biblically ground attitudes toward people who have disabilities. Ephesians 2:10 says:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Usually I tell people about four things I notice, and that one of the things I notice is not even there.

What are they?

Well, the three things I notice are:

  1. If we are God’s handwork, that means We were made on purpose.
  2. If we were made in Christ Jesus to do good works, then We were made for a purpose.
  3. And if those good works were prepared by God in advance for us to do, then Our purpose is not optional.

But then there’s one more thing that I notice that’s not there.

There is no asterisk. There’s no asterisk that exempts or absolves people with disabilities from the calling God has placed on their lives.

He has created each of us on purpose, for a purpose, and that purpose is not optional, whether we are disabled, poor, the same as others, different from others, rich, ethnically different, powerful, weak, old, young, sick, healthy, living in a poor mountain village in Peru, or living in Abu Dhabi.

I told the Crown Point middle schoolers that whether or not they were the same as others, or different from others, didn’t really matter. What mattered was how we treated others: like image-bearers of God each created to answer His call.

Crown Point Christian School, in Crown Point Indiana, is a ministry partner of Elim Christian Services, birthplace and inspiration for The 5 Stages.



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Las Cinco Etapas en Nicaragua


Churches have many objections to doing disability ministry, including:

  • We don’t have enough volunteers.
  • We don’t have the money.
  • We don’t have people with disabilities here.
  • Wouldn’t they be happier in their own churches?

And that’s just to name a few. You can find some other great “myths about disability ministry” in this post by Jeff Davidson over at Disability Matters.

You would think that resources would not be a problem for most American churches. Yet the objection still arises every time a new opportunity or challenge comes up.

Even more, though, we would expect this objection in a less prosperous country. Say, in Nicaragua, where the average wage-earner lives on an income of about $150 a month (WorldBank data). What resources might they have available in their churches? Would they even consider making the effort to include people with disabilities?

These challenges didn’t stop Tesoros de Dios from sending out Paul Blas, who just a few years ago translated The 5 Stages into Spanish and set about meeting with churches near Managua and challenging them to become 5 Stages churches. There is so much more to tell, and fortunately, we have Paul to tell us himself.

Outreach Video 2015 from Elim Christian Services on Vimeo.

Isn’t that amazing? Paul not only challenged these churches, but despite the resource challenges they faced, they committed to becoming the church homes of people who have disabilities. They have been convinced that they are called by God to have a co-laboring attitude toward people who have disabilities. What about you? What about your church?

Check out our resources and see how you can help your church become a welcoming place of inclusion, just by changing attitudes.

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What the Heidelberg Catechism is Missing


In 1563, two young men were charged with creating a question and answer synopsis of the Christian faith and its practice. The resulting Heidelberg Catechism has been used as a reliable companion to the Scriptures for over 450 years.

The catechism aims to draw the believer’s attention to the crucial elements and questions of the faith, and to answer those questions directly from Scripture. These questions range from the practice of the sacraments to observance of the Law to basic theology.

Why Do Good Works?

One of the age-old questions for Christians is why we should do good, if indeed Christ has already done all the good that’s needed to satisfy our Creator. In the 86th set of questions and answer that make up the Catechism, the authors ask, “Since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone through Christ, without any merit of our own, why must we yet do good works?”

The answer is given with reference to specific Bible passages:

“Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit to be his image, so that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for his benefits, and he may be praised by us. Further, that we ourselves may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and that by our godly walk of life we may win our neighbors for Christ.”

So the reasons we should do good work are found in:

  • Romans 6:13–Because we are thankful.
  • I Corinthians 6:19-20–So that God might be praised because of what we do.
  • Matthew 7:17-18–So that we might be assured of our faith.
  • Matthew 5:14-16–So that others might be drawn closer to Him.

That Answer’s Not Enough

All of these are very good, and Biblically-based, reasons for doing good works. But they never quite fully answered the question.

I do think we do good works because we’re grateful for all our Lord has done for us, so that others will praise Him and be drawn to Him, and because these works are a sign of our faith. But all these reasons miss what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which have been prepared in advance for us to do.”

So, this would add a fifth item to the 86th answer in the catechism. We do good works because that’s what we were created to do.

Still Missing Something

Maybe this is missing from the Catechism, but there’s something else missing too. But it’s not because it was overlooked by the authors, but because we overlook it to this day.

In both 1563 and in 2015, the Heidelberg Catechism, its authors and its readers, are missing something. We are missing this very explicit call from the apostle to build God’s Kingdom, to do the work we were called and equipped to do.

But we’re missing something else too. We’re missing the opportunity we have to draw others to Christ by including them in that call.

We are all called to more than belief, to more than thankfulness, to more than being nice people. We are, every one of us–from different economic and social backgrounds different countries, different races and yes, different capabilities–called to do the good works that have been prepared in advance for us to do.

And by everyone, I mean people who we normally do not include in that call, people like Nick.

Nick is God’s Workmanship

Nick has cognitive delays and behaviors that warrant a specialized education to help him reach his potential. Yet, my friend Nick greets me boisterously every time he sees me. He smiles, yells “Mr. Vander Plaats!,” and gives me a high five or even a hug. Nick blesses me. Nick is following God’s call.

For Nick is God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for Nick to do.”

The Heidelberg is missing this, but the Bible isn’t. Are you missing this Biblical command, this imperative to following Christ? How are you helping Nick, and other people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call?



danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

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An Opportunity Missed by Too Many Churches


Life with a Disability is Difficult and Lonely

Life always includes tragedy. And tragedy can be a time of loneliness and deep despair. But when you are part of a church, that tragedy can become an opportunity.

Tragedy and difficulty, whether temporary or long-term, is an opportunity for the church to truly be the church. Not every aspect of life with a disability involves such tragedy, or even difficulty, but it still provides the church with a unique opportunity to respond in a way that only a church really can.

So what keeps us so often from being that kind of church?

The church isn’t a country club. We’ve heard this before. We don’t pay dues (offerings) to pay for the club pro (the pastor) and the grounds crew and caddies (ministry staff) to make sure our tee-offs (services) are on time and everything is done efficiently.

A church whose members think of themselves as ‘belonging’ to a country club want a certain kind of clientele. They have their seat. They have their social clubs. They have their favorite preacher and worship-leader.

When tragedy befalls our country club-church, we respond with pity, with bitterness, and even an awkward social silence that says your kind of tragedy isn’t welcome here. This is particularly so for people who have disabilities. Disability is a constant difficulty, a reminder of sin and brokenness, and its presence in our church not only makes us uncomfortable, it mocks a self-righteous church life.

But it also Presents an Opportunity

It can be helpful to instead think of church as a hospital. Even better, perhaps, it’s a learning hospital. All of us need healing, but we also all need to learn how to heal others.

In tragedy and difficulty, the church-hospital to which we have been called becomes a place of healing, and, hopefully, a place where we learn how to heal.

Even–and perhaps, especially–for people who have disabilities, this kind of environment has profound potential. To see what God sees in the broken person, to call that person into His Kingdom, to equip that person to serve and worship Him with every fiber of their being. That is when the church truly becomes the church.

This all sounds fine in the abstract, but what, more precisely, does it mean?

Fortunately, God’s Word provides some very specific characteristics of the kind of hospital-church community we’re talking about:

  • I Corinthians 12: Christ’s church is not homogenous. It is not made up of one kind of people. It is made into one people from many. Those many come from different economic backgrounds, social classes, ethnicities, levels of ability and education, and genders.
  • Acts 4: That church shares everything, especially with those in need. In fact, the needy are not just an opportunity; they are a priority, for all time.
  • Luke 14: The hospital-church is one that includes everyone, so that God’s house might be full. Everyone, the lame, the blind, those who are weak in body, weak in spirit, hungering and thirsting–all are invited to His eternal banquet.
  • I Thessalonians 5: That church encourages one another, both those who have plenty and those who have nothing, into the work that God called them to do. Everyone is encouraged, not just those who have no troubles, but those who are in great need, are also encouraged to respond to God’s invitation.
  • Matthew 28: The disciples were told to baptize, but even before that, they were called to make disciples. The church is about the business of making disciples, and again, not just of the clear of mind and the strong of limb. Everyone is to become a disciple, a living ‘epistle.’
  • Ephesians 2: That church is full of people who do good works, not just because of what God did for us, or because it is an evidence of our faith, but moreso because that is precisely what God created us to do–to do the good works He has prepared in advance for everyone of us to do.

This is not the Kingdom of this World

The hospital-church is a place this world cannot understand. The kingdom of this world is where capability, difference, and wealth define the person. But in God’s kingdom we are defined, valued, encouraged, and equipped for one reason. We are all His. We all belong to Him. We are all called and equipped. We are all broken, and we are being and have been healed.

And in the process, we are simultaneously called not just to be healed, but to heal others. We are not just called to be disciples, but to make disciples. Not just to be encouraged but to encourage others.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven…and it is at Hand

This is something the church can do that no other entity has the call to do, nor the power or authority to do. And it is an opportunity that is starkly evident in the lives of people who live with disabilities. Don’t just seek our healing; equip us to heal others. Don’t just teach us about Jesus, equip us to teach others. Don’t just encourage us, come alongside us and together, we can encourage others, and continue to build His kingdom.



danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.

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Sheltered Workshops: Relic of the Past or Overlooked Option?


The 5 Stages is a resource developed by Elim Christian Services. Elim is a Christ-centered learning and sharing community dedicated to revealing the purpose and value of each person as a child of God.

Elim has been in ministry for almost 70 years. Among its services for persons living with disabilities is a comprehensive day program for adults with disabilities. Many people, upon visiting this program, are impressed by its commitment to the dignity and purpose of each person served here. In fact, just two years ago, Elim received a rare “Exemplary” rating from the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitative Facilities (CARF), because of our innovative approach to equipping adults living with disabilities to “Make a Difference” in their community and for their neighbors.

Yet there exists a tension. When I read about disability services, or inclusion efforts, or when I attend workshops and conferences devoted to the disability issues that face our communities, I am often told that sheltered workshops are an unfortunate relic of antiquated thinking.

In many ways, these folks are right. And many of them may take a glance at Elm’s services for adults and conclude that this is yet another sheltered workshop, and even wonder how indeed we could ever hope to contribute to a discussion of best practices in disability services.

Brad Johnson, director of Elim’s Adult Services program, helped me understand this tension, and some of the nuances of the discussion that we often overlook, in his answers to the following questions:

Why is community integration so important to disability services organizations?

Elim emphasizes “community engagement” which measures the relationships that are developed in the community, not just the ratios of disabled to nondisabled.  Individuals who have developmental disabilities are like all of us, wanting to be loved and accepted by others.  Historically those who have disabilities have been isolated within their community.  Even under the label of community integration we have seen adults isolated not only from their community, but also their peers whose friendships they seek and cherish.  In our pursuit to integrate those with disabilities into their broader community we must be sure they develop relationships with their neighbors, coworkers, and peers that is consistent and ongoing.

What are the challenges with community integration?

Community integration often tends to assess a person’s quality of life by reducing their relationships with their disabled peers.  Placing an individual in a community, work environment, church, etc. that minimizes their contact with others with disabilities is often sufficient.  We often fail to assess how many meaningful social relationships are consistently maintained.  We can get caught up assessing quality of life as a numeric measure verses a true measure of an individual’s satisfaction with the relationships within one’s life.  Each person has individual needs and one standard measure will fail to truly measure quality of life.  Extroverts often enjoy many varied friendships.  Introverts cherish just a few intimate relationships.  Quality of life assumptions such as community integration need to be assessed by the individual’s needs and desires and not a one-size-fits-all mentality.

What is the focus of a program like Elim’s Adult Services?

At Elim, we have witnessed the tremendous impact that community service or volunteerism has made in the lives of the adults we serve as well as those in our community.  Many of our adults have found fulfillment and established numerous relationships with others in their community by volunteering at local non-profits and churches (through Elim’s “Making a Difference” program).  The adults grow in their esteem and self-worth by helping others in need and receiving gratitude and praise from those they serve.  In addition, people in our community are seeing the valuable contributions our adults are making to their community and overcoming barriers of fear that have created barriers to closer relationships. While community integration increased greater tolerance in the community, community engagement has increased greater acceptance.

Are there benefits to larger aggregate settings for individuals who have developmental disabilities?

When it comes to quality-of-life measures, peer relationships are extremely important to the adults we serve.  One of our biggest barriers to finding jobs for our adults in the community is loneliness.  Although co-workers may be nice to them and tolerate them, the intimacy associated with friendship seldom develops.  So after the excitement of having a new job wears off, an individual tends to lose interest and commitment to their job, so they can return to their friends.  Adults who have developmental disabilities enjoy the opportunity to socialize with numerous adults with similar disabilities, so that within their peer group they may find and develop long-lasting and intimate friendships.  In addition, there is a much greater sense of acceptance and appreciation among their peer group than in the broader population, though we hope that continued ‘community engagement’ will change that reality as well.

What are the benefits and shortcomings of a “least restrictive environment?”

We should always strive to help adults who have disabilities to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on others for their personal care, home-keeping, meal preparation, access to the community, ability to financially support one-self etc.  At the same time, we need to make sure we do not socially isolate a person by putting him or her in an environment that stifles their ability to maintain meaningful relationships.  Again the needs and desires of individuals who have disabilities are broad and diverse.  Measures to assess the least restrictive environment must be based on the personal needs and interests of the individual and not one set measure such as employed full time in the community and living in one’s own residence.  Often we take very good ideas and turn them into very narrow-minded standards.  As long as the least restrictive environment is personally tailored to the needs and desires of the individual in question, there can be great strides in increasing one’s quality of life!

What is the vision for Elim’s services for adults who live with developmental disabilities?

Elim desires to see adults who have developmental disabilities to be actively engaged in their communities.  We want communities to see and appreciate the many contributions individuals who have disabilities bring to our community.  Our vision is to have individuals working, playing, living, and serving in their community alongside their family, friends, and neighbors.  One great treasure I have found in adults who have disabilities is their great acceptance, appreciation, tolerance, love, and ability to forgive.  There is much the “non-disabled” community can learn from those who have developmental disabilities.

As always, Elim remains committed to the development and deployment of best practices in its services and opportunities to equip adults with disabilities. We believe this is best practiced not just in the pursuit of independence, capability, or even in financial success, but in relationships, in pursuing one’s purpose and calling, and in meaningful activities that build the Kingdom.

While we stand with those who question the legitimacy and wisdom of isolated sheltered workshops (through which many people have and continue to prosper on the backs of those living with disabilities), we also humbly suggest that the issue of community integration is a complicated one, and we cannot categorically dismiss peer-relationship community services as a viable and even desirable solution.

After all, it is the kind of thinking that Brad and his team employ at Elim’s Adult Services program that helped us build The 5 Stages in the first place.




danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.



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Beyond Serving “The Least of These”


Matthew 25:31-46 may be one of the most controversial passages in all of scripture. Jesus says to his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…he will separate the people one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:31-33 NIV).

To the sheep Jesus gives the kingdom inheritance prepared since the creation of the world, the goats he sends to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25: 34, 41). The people Jesus calls sheep are those who ministered to the “least of these brothers of mine”, the goats are those who “did not do for… the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45 NIV).

The focus of commentary on this passage is typically about the helper. But what about the helped who are referred to by scripture as the “least of these;” are they not also called to use the gifts God has given to them, to be co-workers with the helper (2 Cor. 6:1 NIV)?

“Please Let Me Help You Too”

Let’s explore a view of the “least of these” that pushes beyond the limits of the permanent roles of the “helper and helped” statuses that are perpetuated by most Christian and non-Christian ministerial efforts.

If there was ever a group that risks remaining in permanent “helped” status, it is persons with disabilities.

Yet regardless of the severity of any person’s disability, all human beings are created by God in “his own image” (Gen. 1:27 NIV). By the power of his Spirit, God has given all human beings the ability to connect at a spirit-to-spirit level, at a level that we humans struggle to describe, a level that is beautifully beyond the reach of our limited understanding.

Think for a moment about the last time you saw someone with significant developmental disabilities. Did it occur to you that he or she might just have a blessing for you, a blessing that God uniquely assigned to him or her just for you? That he or she might somehow want to say, “Please let me help you too.”

Daniel Changes Lives

Daniel was a young boy with significant disabilities. The Haitian government dropped him off at an orphanage in Haiti in the summer of 2013.

When Ted, a missionary with the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) and his daughter found him, he was completely alone and left unfed and uncared for. His condition was so severe that Ted’s daughter became physically ill. Deeply moved by Daniel, Ted and his daughter arranged for him to receive the care that he so urgently needed.

Sadly, just two months later Daniel passed away after the Haitian authorities moved him to another orphanage. Ted tells me that during the brief time he and his daughter spent with Daniel, they developed a deep bond with this little boy, who was unable to speak with words, but who God mysteriously used to show them the extent of his love and grace.

What About You and Me?

As you reflect on The 5 Stages, I invite you to think with me about the limits we place on other human beings, especially those with significant physical and intellectual disabilities.

Sadly, even though I work at a ministry that serves children and adults with disabilities, when I see one of our students or adults I don’t often think, “How might God want to use  him or her to teach me something, to bless me, to help me”?

I pray that writing this blog will help you AND me to become more aware of the astounding ways that God uses all people to bless others and to show his glory!

bmarshBob Marsh is the Vice President for Outreach and Advancement at Elim Christian Services, birthplace of The 5 Stages. Bob is married and has three adult children.




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Use a Little G.L.U.E. to Help Your Church


I just don’t know HOW. This is the statement that I often hear when I speak with church leaders about including people who have disabilities. How do we move from pity to care, or from care to friendship? How do we move through the five stages of being ignorant of those with disabilities to becoming co-laborers in Christ with those who have disabilities? While the process of changing attitudes and the atmosphere at your church may seem daunting, CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) has a tool available to help you and your church in this process.

We offer a planning process called G.L.U.E, which stands for giving, loving, understanding, and encouraging. G.L.U.E. is a manual that comes alongside churches as they strive to be an inclusive community. CLC Network desires for you to do “ministry with” individuals who have disabilities, rather than “ministry to” individuals who have disabilities. We desire for churches and communities to see each person as a co-laborer in Christ.

Our G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD is a three hour long training session, broken up into four segments. This training will walk you through the biblical and theological thinking for viewing all people as an important part of the Body of Christ. It will focus in on appointing a special needs coordinator, getting to know the person(s) with a disability, sharing the vision of G.L.U.E. with your church, developing an inclusion action plan, and training a support team for the person(s) with a disability. If your church is able, we ask that you purchase the training materials on the CLC Network website.

We are aware, however, that some churches may not be able to afford these materials, and, because of this, we offer a grant that allows churches to purchase our G.LU.E. Training Manual and DVD for free. To apply for a G.L.U.E. grant, visit our website, Here, you will fill out a short application form. Once your grant is approved, you will receive a DVD and training manual in the mail.

Because we are each different, G.L.U.E. is meant to be adaptable to each person’s differences, rather than a cookie-cutter program. It is a planning process that is flexible for each church, each community, and each individual. Whether you are in charge of ten churches or one, whether your faith community is big or small, you can make G.L.U.E. your very own.

And, it is a process. It’s a process that not only speaks to the individual, but it also speaks to everyone else as we work to become an example of God’s body—as we work towards God’s Kingdom as co-laborers in Christ.

Go here to get an overview of the G.L.U.E. Process:


JackiSikkemaJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network, a ministry that, like Elim Christian Services, is devoted to equipping people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives.

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Lies the World Tells People with Disabilities


I am Disabled

I have a disability. It’s a slight speech impediment as a result of damage to some nerve centers at the base of my brain. Only one vocal chord works, my tongue barely moves, and I have to work hard to manipulate my lips and teeth to form words. It has always been this way.

I not only grew up with a speech impediment, I also grew up hearing the story that I wasn’t supposed to live for very long.

The World Tells Me I am Valuable

So, as I grew up (and lived beyond those first few rough years), I became accustomed to being a child who ‘succeeded despite the odds,’ who ‘overcame so many difficulties.’ It became enticing, even a challenge, to keep proving what I could do despite my disabilities.

I never realized I was buying into one of the world’s lies.

The Values Preached by the World are Lies

The world lies to those of us who have disabilities. It tells us what makes us valuable, or attractive, or important. It does these things by focusing on what makes us different, or even what makes us the same. It defines all our value based on extrinsic characteristics. It lies to us.

So what are the lies that the world tells us?

  • You are valuable because of what you accomplish. This was the sticky one for me. I could prove that I wasn’t that disabled, I thought. I am actually able to do so many normal things that you might as well think of me as normal, I thought. When we read stories about a lady with autism who overcomes the odds to graduate from college, we are seeing the subtle lie. You are accomplishing ‘despite your disability,’ therefore you are valuable. Or, conversely, if you cannot accomplish anything, you are therefore not valuable at all.
  • You are valuable because you have a disability. Pride used to be one of the seven deadly sins, now it is somehow ‘good’ to have pride. The mobilization of different people groups to have ‘pride’-based parades has also permeated the culture of people living with disabilities. In fact, people with certain impairments seek to build up a culture where those impairments are actually celebrated and valued, persuaded that what makes life worthwhile is living with that specific impairment.
  • You are not disabled. You are just different. Who wants to be disabled? I sure didn’t. Many parents feel the same way about their children who live with disabilities. Perhaps as a way to accept their child’s disability, they re-interpret the reality of disability as though it is no different from life without a disability. While in my case, many parts of my daily life are ‘normal,’ the reality is it has hundreds of impacts every day, from whether or not the person on the other end of the phone takes me seriously to how I’ll be treated by the teenaged clerk at the local hardware store. Disability is not just another ‘difference.’ And even difference itself should not be celebrated (and neither should sameness).

The World Lies to Us All

But these lies aren’t just being told to and accepted by those of us who live with disabilities. They are preached to all of us. We are all accepting these lies by believing things like:

  • You are valuable because of what you own.
  • You are worthwhile because of how you look.
  • Your life means something because of your job title.

But our God is a God of Truth

Paul talks about ‘exchanging the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25)’ The truth of God comes from Him, and is found within His Kingdom. The lie comes from the kingdom of this world. It is pervasive and it is a poison. It is fleeting and temporary. It is the wind. Today, I accomplish something, but tomorrow, I am emptied of accomplishment. Today I look great, twenty years from now, my looks have faded. Today, I don’t feel all that different from everyone else. Tomorrow, I will feel like every little task is a major challenge.

When we base our ‘truth’ on extrinsic qualities: how we feel, how we perceive ourselves, where we feel most comfortable, we once again accept the lies of this world, instead of the Truth of God: that He created us. That He has a plan for our lives. That He uses that which is external to shape, to direct, and to make us into what He has called us to be.

The Truth of God is that our Value Rests in Him

So what is God’s truth about what makes us valuable? For all of us, what makes us valuable is that we are children of God, made in His image.

  • I am not valuable because of what I accomplish. I accomplish things because God has called me into the service of His Kingdom.
  • I am not valuable because of my disability. I have a disability, and God uses me, sometimes despite my disability, and sometimes because of it, to draw myself and others closer to Him.
  • I am not valuable because I am different, or because I am not different. I am valuable because God uses me, in all of my uniqueness and in all the ways in which I am part of a community.
  • I am not valuable because of how I look, or how important or wealthy I am. I am valuable because I am a child of the Living God, a servant of the Heavenly Kingdom, and a co-heir in Christ.

Don’t believe the lies of this world, that our value ebbs and flows on the whims of man. Whether or not you live with a disability, your value is, always was, and always has been defined and given by our Creator God.




danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.




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7 Signs That You (Or Your Church) Are Ignorant


As The 5 Stages has been presented and used by more and more churches and individuals, one of the most common questions we receive is: What does it look like when a church is at Stage 1 or 3? What’s the difference?

I thought it might be helpful to offer some characteristics that you can find in churches where ‘ignorance’ is the prevailing attitude about people with disabilities.

But ignorance is such a harsh word. I know, but it is even harsher to consider how it feels for people with disabilities when these attitudes persist, and–oftentimes–pervade. So, while I’m asking for your grace as I might point out some things that hit close to home, I am at the same time asking you to set aside your defenses, and seek God’s will for your relationships with people who have disabilities.

Please note that the following list is simply an attempt at a list. It is not exhaustive. I provide the list, not to make you feel bad, but in the hopes that it will be a tool to aid conversation with other members of your church, your family, or your community.

That said, here are seven signs you (or your church) are ignorant:

  1. Shunning. People with disabilities are not welcomed or prioritized because they have a disability. Some people believe that the presence of disability is somehow connected to a lack of faith or a curse upon that family or even that church. Such a church lacks the ability to see that no life on this earth can be free from difficulty or from the impact of sin and brokenness, and that it is, in some mysterious way, that brokenness that allows God’s grace and strength to permeate our lives. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  2. Inconsiderate language. Sometimes, we use language that implies ‘lesser status’ for people who live with disabilities. We talk of ‘those people,’ ‘the handicapped,’ or even use words like ‘retard.’ Yet, we are all created in the image of God, and we are called to reflect His glory. All of us. Every last one of us. If we are all equally called and gifted as full image-bearers, then that applies to people who live with disabilities, and it means this: We might still say “She’s Down syndrome” or “He’s a cripple,” but we are always trying to do our best to speak about people in a way that honors their status as image-bearers. Even more important, we’re getting to know these brothers and sisters in Christ, so that we don’t speak of them as strangers, but as family members.
  3. Annoyance. Accessible parking spaces. The physical demands for elevators, ramps, hearing loops. It seems like people with disabilities are always demanding more accommodation and frankly, people get tired of it. If your first thought is to be annoyed by the presence and demands of people with disabilities, you may need to reconsider your attitudes (you may also need to have a conversation with the person(s) that are causing you to be annoyed).
  4. Lack of Spiritual Maturity. When our children refuse to share toys, we correct them for their immaturity. When we refuse to make space for people with disabilities to be part of our lives and communities, are we not doing the very same thing? When we make our church about us, and about what we want, have we changed it into something other than what God wanted? Is it God’s church, or our church? And if it is God’s church, then what does He want us to do to accommodate and include others?
  5. Lack of Awareness. Did you know that roughly 1 in 5 families in America is affected in some way by disability, whether physical (and obvious) or mental/emotional (often hidden)? That’s 20% of our population that is in some way impacted by a life with disabilities. Most people are surprised to find out the percentage is so high. When we think disability is only affecting a few people, we don’t prioritize the need, nor do we prioritize sensitivity to that need.
  6. Physical inaccessibility. Okay, so this is an easy one, I admit. If you don’t have wheelchair ramps, if the only way to get into church is up a flight of steep, concrete steps, you are telling everyone in a wheelchair or a walker that they are not welcome. But there are other accessibility issues. Will you accommodate people with vision impairments, or hearing impairments? How about people who need sensory breaks or who have a gluten allergy (with regard to communion)? This leads to the final sign.
  7. General insensitivity. This is a tough one, because it touches just about everyone. We all have moments (and sometimes lots of moments) when our first and only concern is our own life, our time, our plans. This self-focus inherently makes us less sensitive to others. Why? Because investing in the life of someone else (being sensitive to their needs) is hard work, even when no disabilities are involved. How much more challenging is it when we are investing in the life of someone who can’t talk, has a hard time getting around, or who just demands more than a few minutes of our time?

Remember, being ignorant is simply a lack of knowledge. It can be surpassed, you and I can stop being ignorant. I share these signs in the hope (and the relative certainty) that you will find yourself somewhere in here (just as I do), and that you will be encouraged to move in a new direction.

But what new direction is that? Here are some practical things you can do to move beyond ignorance:

  • Reveal and accept your own brokenness (to yourself and ideally even to others). We want to believe we are strong and capable, traits which should distinguish us from people who have disabilities. Accepting our own failings is a step toward identifying with people who experience brokenness in a more immediate and obvious way.
  • Consider how you would want your family to be treated. Maybe we can’t just throw all kinds of energy and resources into making our churches and houses accessible, but we can start asking what might be a good first step. Ask yourself what you would want to see in a church if you were a visiting family with a child who had disabilities. (Better yet, ask a family from your neighborhood to evaluate your church).
  • Be ready. If and when someone with a disability comes into your life, whether they struggle with speech, with physical movement, with hearing…be welcoming, ask questions, seek to serve and encourage that person as a child of God.

Maybe, right now, you are ignorant, but you don’t have to stay that way.



danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.






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There is no Asterisk


The concepts discussed in this blog and on this website are not new, but are sometimes received as though they are revolutionary. Yet there is nothing truly unique about these thoughts.

And I’m not just talking about the fact that similar attitudinal structures have been developed by people like Jean Vanier and Bill Gaventa, though they have been, and long before we developed The 5 Stages.

It’s in the Bible

I’m talking about the fact that the foundation for The 5 Stages is found in the Bible. It’s found in the way that Paul, specifically, talks in his letters to Timothy, to the Thessalonians, and to the Ephesians. It’s simply not news.

From 2 Timothy 3:16 & 17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

1 Thessalonians 5:11:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So what do those verses have to do with anything? How do they show us that people with disabilities are supposed to be part of our churches, our communities? More than that, how do those verses tell us that people with disabilities are called to the work of the Kingdom?

It’s really simple, actually. There is no asterisk.

People with Disabilities are Called to Kingdom Work

There is no asterisk on these verses. Like an asterisk that would send your eyes to the bottom of the page, where you would see ‘except for people who have disabilities,’ or ‘except for people who are depressed,’ or ‘except for children who can’t communicate.’

But even though there is no asterisk, we often subconsciously put an asterisk on these verses. Are we assuming that people who have disabilities are not called by God to do His work? Do we believe, even slightly, that people with different abilities are not supposed to be challenged, equipped, and encouraged for every good work, “which God has prepared in advance for them to do”?

Who Do You Know that Doesn’t Understand This?

Maybe these questions are for you, and maybe they are for you to ask other people. Are you putting an asterisk on these verses? Are you absolving people with disabilities from the Kingdom work of God?

Because there is no asterisk, unless we put it there.



danvp_avatarDan Vander Plaats is the Director of Advancement at Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, a ministry that exists to equip people who live with disabilities to answer God’s call on their lives. He is also a member of the advisory committee for Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church. In 2009, he developed “5 Stages: The Journey of Disability Attitudes” as a resource for Elim. The 5 Stages helps churches and individuals assess their attitudes toward people with disabilities. He is married to Denise (Hiemstra), and is father to Ben and Emma. They are members of Orland Park Christian Reformed Church in Illinois.