Category Archives: Disability Theology

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What the Heidelberg Catechism is Missing

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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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BeyondtheLeast

Beyond Serving “The Least of These”

BeyondtheLeast

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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Lies the World Tells People with Disabilities

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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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There is no Asterisk

Ephesians210

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.

 

 

ThereisNoAsterisk_The5Stages


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Did God Make Me This Way? (Part 2)

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Two weeks ago, I posted a personal perspective on God’s purpose in disability. In it, I postulated that it is not a question of whether or not God made me this way (as a disabled person), but that He has a redemptive purpose in each life.

I want to follow that up by sharing what I’ve learned from others.

Disability and the Sovreign Goodness of God Free E-Book

In addition to several great blog posts on the issue of disability, Desiring God Ministries compiled this free e-book for you to download and enjoy

In the post “Why Was This Child Born Blind?” from Desiring God Ministries, John Piper says:

The decisive explanation for this blindness is not found by looking for its cause but by looking for its purpose. [John 9] Verse 3: Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Piper offers a very specific application of John 9:3, to point out that:

  1. [The disciples] want to know: Why is he blind? And Jesus really does give an answer. This is why he’s blind—there is purpose in it…
  2. God knows all things. If God foresees and permits a conception that he knows will produce blindness, he has reasons for this permission. And those reasons are his purposes. His designs. His plans.
  3. And third, any attempt to deny God’s sovereign, wise, purposeful control over conception and birth has a head-on collision with Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.”

Though its very mandate is somewhat constricted to the pursuit of the “Great Commission,” the Lausanne Movement (and its subsequent ‘conversations’ – all of which can be found at the website for the Lausanne Movement) are very helpful as we dissect the issue of disability in relation to the Kingdom of God.

How Does God View Pweople with Disabilities; The Lausanne Movement

The Lausanne Movement has several resources related to the connection between disabilities and the Great Commission, including this paper.

Instructively, the authors of “How Does God View Disability?” (a subsection of ” Hidden and Forgotten People: Ministry Among People With Disabilities” written by  Joni Eareckson Tada and Jack S. Oppenhuizen) tell us that “Of course, Satan sometimes causes illness (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16) – but in these references, as everywhere, Satan unwittingly serves God’s ends and purposes. No trial, no disease or illness, no accident or injury reaches us apart from God’s permission…God may not initiate all our trials, including diseases, birth deformities and injuries, but by the time they reach us, they are His will for us for whatever time and purpose that He determines.”

These distinctions, however small they seem, are important, and are also reflected in the serious theology presented in Steph Hubach’s “Same Lake, Different Boat,” a book in which Steph tells us stories about her son who lives with Down Syndrome (Tim) and her son who doesn’t (Fred). Throughout, Steph builds a step by step approach to thinking theologically about disabilities.

Ultimately, Steph draws these distinctions, but talks about them in a very unique way. These distinctions are very important for us today, and she attributes them to certain world views. It is helpful to remember that, while some of these are secular world views, they can have a significant impact on religious thought and theology.

  • The first view, the ‘historical view’ on disability (even among Christ-followers) has long been: “Disability is an Abnormal Part of Life in a Normal World.” This view informs the disciples’ question about sin and the man born blind. It says, this person did something wrong, that’s why he has a disability. It also implies that in some way God’s sovereignty does not extend over disability, and therefore that person has no place, no value, no work to do in the redemption of the world.
  • "Same Lake, Different Boat" provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    “Same Lake, Different Boat” provides an excellent theological overview of disability issues, and provides other resources to encourage the discussion of these issues.

    The second view is referred to as postmodern and postulates that “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Normal World.” Broken down into Christian thought, this leads to the view that God created this person, and created him as he is. He is blessed with a disability. He is okay as he is, and there is nothing wrong with him. This thinking does a great job of acknowledging God’s sovereignty regarding disability, but it unfortunately overlooks the brokenness of creation, the need for restoration to ‘life as it is supposed to be.’

  • The third view, the biblical view, goes like this: “Disability is a Normal Part of Life in a Abnormal World.” Essentially, disability is a symptom of the brokenness of Creation. Things are not as they are supposed to be – Creation is groaning (Romans 8:22) because sin, disability, broken homes and relationships, economic inequality, war-mongering, and other ailments (both large and small) still impact our lives.

I heartily recommend the book “Same Lake, Different Boat,” by Steph Hubach, but I also encourage you to check out the other resources she offers, including an amazing DVD study for you to use in education courses related to the issue of disability, in small group or adult education courses at church, or just with your disability and leadership teams at your church.

So, what do we learn, then?

  • Disability is not a blessing, nor it it a curse. Disability is a symptom of a broken world, and yet is still redeemed to His purposes.
  • God is sovereign over disabilities and the people who have them.
  • Even if God gives, or permits, a disability, it is only as a tool for His redemptive purposes, not as an end unto itself.

As always, The 5 Stages is built on a biblical view of disability. If nothing else, The 5 Stages exists to point the very discussion of disability and inclusion in the direction of Christ. But I wonder what our readers think. Does disability come from God? Why do you think of it as a curse, or why do you think of it as a blessing?

 

 

 

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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Did God Make Me This Way? (Part I)

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I was born with a disability. I have never liked the disability, but it is part of my every day life. It seems like it’s a part of me, and that I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have a speech impediment.

The mother of a child with Down syndrome or autism probably doesn’t like the social, behavioral, and medical issues that accompany the ‘disability.’ And yet, there is a freshness in their child’s perspective, a different take on the world that is both unique and somehow essential. In some mysterious way, God’s wonders are revealed in the life of this person.

These wonders–God’s patience, His stillness and His strength in weakness–seem so important to understand that we conclude that God wanted us to learn them. And if He wanted us to learn them, perhaps He needed to send that child, with their disabilities and struggles and all. And that begs the question I try to respond to here. Did God make me this way?

Did He make me with a disability, and why? If He made me this way, what does that mean for my value, what does it mean for my place in God’s kingdom? What does it mean for people with disabilities?

 

If God Made Me This Way…

I want to say that God did make me this way, because:

  • It means that God is in control, which is what I’ve been taught. It’s what the Bible proclaims.
  • It means that I am still okay just the way I am, because ‘God doesn’t make junk,’ and
  • It means that my disability is actually okay (just a ‘difference’ or a ‘different ability’), if not actually a really good blessing from God

I want to believe that God made me this way because it is affirming, and it would seem consistent with my (flawed?) perception of what it means for God to be ‘loving.’ If God is all these things (a powerful God who is in control and does things only for our good), then it is easiest to accept disability as some kind of intentional gift from God, and–therefore–good.

 

But I Know It’s Not A Gift…

Just as I know disability is not just a curse, as has been thought for so long, I also know it is not a blessing (something I’ve already written about). The idea of it being a blessing is a more recent development, for all the reasons I listed above, plus a more fundamental one.

We want to believe that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with us.

We don’t want to think of ourselves as liars or cheats, or selfish and prideful. We know those things are wrong, and we know we can do those things. Being inclined to lie, cheat, and steal are obvious defects of the human condition.

But there are other ‘symptoms’ of that condition that are not inherently sinful. As tough as it can be to accept, disability is one of those symptoms. Being disabled is a real-world sign that things are not as they should be, that the kingdom of this world is broken. All Creation has been affected by the fall, in all aspects, and this is true not only in our moral lives, but in our spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological lives as well.

 

Yet God Redeems All Things

There is secular humanist support for the idea that we are fine as we are, and that stands in direct contrast to the Christian message that we all need Jesus, and even then, that all is still being made new (which reminds us that many things are wrong with this world).

My speech disorder may not pose me many problems (which is not true for a large number of people living with disabilities), but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with my disability. Even if I can function at a ‘high’ level, this is still a disability. It still is part of a broken world that is tainted in all aspects by sin.

I was created by God, but He did not create me to be disabled (which gives value to my disability), He created me to serve Him (which gives due glory and honor to Him).

It is difficult to say this well, and yet it is so simple a thought. I happen to have a disability, and whether or not I have it from God’s hand is not really as important as this. I have the answer to something much more important. Does God have a purpose for my life? Can He use me despite my disability, or maybe even because of it?

God redeems. Two thousand years ago, today, and every hour, He redeems. And He uses me. He uses my disability. He uses my sins and my failings, and He redeems. He redeems me. He redeems people around me. He redeems them through me and my faltering speech.

 

He Redeems You

God may not have given me my disability, but He definitely uses it. The same is true for you. Your value (whether or not you have a disability) is not determined by what you contribute, how independently you live, how impressive your resume looks, or whether or not you can feed yourself. Your value is complete because you are a child of the Living God. And whether or not you are disabled, and whether or not that disability comes from God’s hands, He still redeems.

 

 

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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Imagine Something Beautiful

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Although we were almost all committed to serving in different countries, each one of us shared a common a common call…to love and serve in community with those who have special needs!

Disability ministry leaders from India, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Rwanda and the United States recently met up at Elim Christian Services’ Annual Outreach Summit to pray, encourage, and dream together! During this time there were tears shed due to the heavy burden of pioneering disability programs in countries where there is very little support, yet there were also relentless belly laughs from the joy of this purpose-filled fellowship. One of the greatest things that happened during our time together was the practical vision casting which came out of our discussion about how to use the 5 Stages message as an awareness tool with churches and our local communities.

Michelle, a disability leader in Nicaragua has been using The 5 Stages message with churches for almost a year now. Michelle had some great feedback to offer the group about how churches who hardly knew people with disabilities existed (because it is common for them to be hidden in homes), were now going out into their communities to find families who have a child with disabilities and invite them to church. Geeta, a disability leader in India who founded a school for autism, is just beginning to work with churches around the issue of disabilities. Like Michelle, she will also be using The 5 Stages tool to provoke the hearts of those churches in her community. After hearing how The 5 Stages tool can be useful in church and community engagement, Lucia from Zimbabwe decided to bring the materials back to her husband Davis who is a pastor and who also teaches a disability course through a bible college in Zimbabwe.

The more we come together around this common call, the more God’s love and intentions for people with disabilities will be displayed in this world. Their contribution can be the critical difference between a broken world and something beautiful.

kimresumepicKimberly Amos has a master’s degree in social work and education administration. She has played a role in the startup and development of several disability programs. Kim spent a year serving in Thailand and India with her family. She is now back in the U.S. and works closely with global ministry leaders who together form Elim’s Outreach Network.


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The 5 Stages – Why It Exists

“Oh. Yeah,” the elderly gentleman said. “I know all about Elim. It’s great what you do for those kids.”

I could only manage a half-hearted “thank you” as a response, which was directed mostly at his back as he walked away from my booth. at a ministry fair. Now, I know Elim would not exist without the support of a man like this. But that didn’t stop me from inferring certain conclusions from what he said. He may have meant nothing more than “I know what you do.” However, this is what I read in to his comments:

  • I know what Elim does, and don’t need to know any more (or get more involved).
  • You serve those kids, the ones that have troubles and disabilities, the ones I don’t really think need much more than what you’re doing for them.
  • I don’t need to spend any time with you.

These sorts of comments stir up a frustration in me. There’s this thing called ‘holy discontent,’ and I’m not sure that’s what I felt, but I certainly was ‘discontented’ with his reaction. After hearing similar comments through the years, I started to conclude (too often) that no one seemed to care, and no one seemed to understand why they should care.It seemed like most people just felt like people with disabilities existed (sometimes unfortunately, because of the burdens that came along with caring for them) and that was all. We didn’t need to pour any extra special effort into their lives.

Many people have no reason to see anything wrong with that attitude. Even I struggle to articulate this. But it is this frustration that we are attempting to overcome with “The 5 Stages.”

As a tool, the 5 Stages is designed to:

  1. Open conversation about our attitudes toward people who live with disabilities.
  2. Prompt thought and change within families, groups, churches, schools, and communities.
  3. Equip others to spread the message to change more attitudes.

The 5 Stages, which you can review here, is designed to be a self-diagnostic tool. It allows regular people who may have never given a second thought to people with disabilities, the opportunity to assess their attitudes, and usually determine their attitude to be lacking.

Once we see that God calls us to a different attitude, we find a reason to talk about it, to pray about it, to change it. And if the tool is simple enough, straightforward enough, and accurate enough, it is easy to share with others.

The 5 Stages exists because God’s Kingdom is at hand. He is building His Kingdom through the lives of His people, and He calls all of His people, including those who live with disabilities, to be part of that work. I hope this site can be an inspiration for you, for your family and church, for your school and community, to adopt a “Stage 5” attitude toward people who live with disabilities, so that you will equip them to be your “Co-laborers.”

Future posts will talk about how the 5 Stages is designed to do these things, and I hope you’ll stay with us to be a part of the conversation, or maybe even to join the team.

 

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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On God and Disability

Dan Vander Plaats was interviewed by the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. The interview was conducted in preparation for a presentation (by Dan Quist and Dan VP) at their annual Symposium on January 31, 2014.

Farmers and gardeners notice how often the Bible talks about taking care of the land. What Bible stories or promises stand out for people with disabilities?

You naturally notice verses where Jesus comes across people with disabilities. Lately I’ve been drawn to verses that have nothing to do with disability, such as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Both are about encouraging and equipping believers. Why I’m drawn to them is that there’s no asterisk, for instance “*unless you’re poor, disabled or have a mental illness.” These verses apply to everyone. So, a church that is only equipping those who are polished is not fulfilling God’s call to build up believers.

The ‘building up’ is not always what God is doing in the life of a person with disabilities. It’s also what God is doing in you and your church to enfold, support and connect with people who have disabilities. If we believe these are covenant children, as we said at their baptism, then how are we making it obvious that everyone belongs?

You can read the rest of the interview by clicking here. Thanks for sharing the 5 Stages!


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Not as Much of a Blessing as You Might Think…

Living with disabilities is not as much of a blessing as you might think.

A few years ago I was at an event at the local Christian college, and afterwards I was speaking with the wife of the college president.  They had a child who was a student in Elim’s school program.

There were several conversations going on at Elim at the same time. The kind of conversations that you have when you are wondering what your organization is about and whether or not it’s relevant and whether or not you’re talking about the right things when you talk with donors and people from the community.

One of the things that we were talking about was what it meant for people who had disabilities to be a blessing to other people.  It was an easy conversation to have.  It seems like people understood it, especially those who had experience with people with disabilities, but one of the factors that goes into that discussion is what does it mean to be a blessing to someone else.

I remember talking, in all my naïvete, to this wonderful mom (the wife of the college president), and she was talking about her experiences with her son, and when I told her that we at Elim are talking about people with disabilities as being a blessing to other people, she didn’t exactly bristle, but her response could not be characterized as warm.

She said that she did not like it when organizations and people simply talked about people with disabilities being a blessing, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s not that people with disabilities can’t bless other people, but it is simpleminded to expect that they are a blessing at all times and in some cases, to perceive them as simply being a blessing because they are disabled.

There are many times when people I know have claimed that people with disabilities teach us more than we teach them or that they simply love more than we love, that they understand more than we give them credit for.  Each of these comments, while perhaps true to the experience of the person who utters them, is patronizing in many ways. 

For instance, we can deify the person with disabilities, extending to them qualities which are extra-human, marking them as a super-crip.  In such a way, you could argue, we even demean them by doing that, by saying that there are different expectations of someone with disabilities.

Now these kinds of comments about people with disabilities, that they’re more of a blessing to people than we are, that they love more, that they understand things that we don’t give them credit for, they’re not always untrue, but they are indicative of a perception of people with disabilities that they aren’t expected to do what we do, that they aren’t called by God to the same calling that we have.

I suppose that’s why when I think about what it means to be a friend of someone with disabilities, I can understand that one of the aspects of that friendship is valuing that person and really defining where that value comes from.

Now we can talk about and argue about “value” all day long, but this is a central, core tenet of what it means to have a Godly attitude towards people with disabilities.

What this mom was pointing out to me was that looking at people with disabilities and extending to them some kind of extra-human characteristic was robbing them of the character that they actually have in God.  If we are talking about how to value people with disabilities, as Christians we always associate that with someone’s value in God, but when we say that a person with disabilities has a greater capacity for love or that somehow they teach us more than we teach them, then we are saying that where their value lies is in what they can teach us or how much they love and how much better they actually are than we are.

These are false characteristics.  That isn’t really where their value is.

What this Elim mom was telling me is that  we don’t look at our children who have disabilities or our adult friends who have disabilities and claim them to be something more than what they truly are.  They are fallen like us.  They are called like us.

The expectations that they should play a role in the kingdom of God should be no different from what is expected of us.

A lot of that is dependent on the value that we place on their lives, and if we expect more of them than what they capable of, we’re not assigning them a fair value.  If we say that they not capable of doing anything, then we not assigning them a value that God has placed on their life, and finally if we assign to them some kind of extra-human characteristic that they are simply more loving and more in tune with God’s kingdom than we are, then we’re also saying that that’s what is expected of them and we’re making that their job description in God’s kingdom when their job description is really the same as ours.

If we do anything else, we’re actually being condescending.  We’re patronizing.

No one is exempt from the call that God places on our lives.  It doesn’t matter if you are more loving and more knowledgeable or whatever, you still have the same calling – to humble yourself before God, to serve at his pleasure, to serve at his mercy in his kingdom, for his glory.  That call is the same for me and for you and for people with disabilities, for people who are poor, for people who are disenfranchised.  For anyone who calls on the name of the Lord, the calling is the same; we are all called to serve his kingdom.

We’re also called to do something that is perhaps is difficult for us to understand.  We have to rid ourselves of the notion that God has placed a call on us because we’re normal, we have capacity, we have capability.

We are not the only ones who have been called to service in God’s kingdom.

When God says, “Encourage each other into every good work,” when he says, “Go into the world and baptize men and women in the name of God,” when we are called to do those things there is no line between people who are non-disabled and people who are disabled.  There’s not some imaginary line between them.  Everybody is subject to that call, everybody has been called by God, everybody has been gifted by God, and our job is to encourage and equip each other into every good work, those works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.

 

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.