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.

 

 

Sheltered Workshops: Relic of the Past or Overlooked Option?

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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.

 

 

Beyond Serving “The Least of These”

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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.

 

 

 

White Paper: Building a Special Needs Ministry

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In 2012, Elim Christian Services lost a great member of its team when Vinnie Adams agreed to take on a new challenge. Our good friends at Faith Church, a large, multi-site church (and member of the Reformed Church of America denomination) in Dyer, Indiana, and longtime friends and supporters of the mission and vision of Elim, had asked Vinnie to build a special needs ministry there.

It didn’t take long for Vinnie to cast his vision for that ministry. Here’s a short excerpt from a recent interview we conducted with Vinnie:

It was literally the first document that I brought to Pastor Bob. It was my third day in the office, and we did a peer-learning day downtown Chicago. It was me, Ryan, and Bob. When I shared it with him, he just said “This is it.”

Your church can have all the resources in the world, but if your church doesn’t have the attitude for this, it’s all for naught,

What the 5 Stages brings is that church-wide assessment tool to say ‘we have to do this together, change our whole church attitude.’ It’s almost scary to think about a church without the right attitude. Imagine the experience of that family, and all they could think afterwards is ‘this is how the church responded,’ if they don’t have the right attitude, what does that mean for all our churches and how they are responding to families who want to be there.

Here’s The 5 Stages in a nutshell: act like Jesus.

That’s all there is to it. Churches might strive to have a disability ministry, but if they don’t have the attitude and the mindset, they’re missing it. It’s the pre-assessment tool for every church before they do anything with disability ministry.

It provides a framework to think big-picture about each aspect of your ministry. Is this exemplifying care or pity or co-laboring or something else?

In a very short time, we at Elim were asked to participate in the launch of Faith Church’s new special needs ministry. Today, that ministry includes:

  1. Reflectors Worship – provides a safe place for worship and scripture lesson and social time as an alternative to the regular worship service
  2. Prayer partner ministry – part of Reflectors ministry, it is truly a co-laborer ministry because you partner off (a person with disabilities and someone who does not identify as disabled) and you pray with and for each other
  3. Respite and Parent Support – Co-laboring with and empowering families to raise kids to know Christ
  4. Frontlines team – This is a greeter team comprised of people with different abilities
  5. Treasureland – full inclusion of students with different abilities (seeing true mutuality and gift using by people with special needs)

2014_0818_The5StagesasaMinistryFramework-1These efforts testify to the value and utility of The 5 Stages as you and your church not only assess how you include and minister to people who live with disabilities, but also as you actually build those ministry efforts with the 5 Stages as your source document. Because of their success and momentum, we asked Vinnie to share how Faith Church used The 5 Stages as a framework for building their disability ministries. That interview is completely recorded in the first in our new series of White Papers.

Click here to download and read this white paper today.

Click here to find out more about the Reflectors ministry and other special need ministries at Faith Church.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Local School Seeks Stage 5

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We came across this entry from the annual report of Southwest Chicago Christian Schools, a sister school to Elim that serves students from Preschool through 12th grade. The following excerpt from their annual report was provided by their Oak Lawn campus (PreK-8).

Being Co-Laborers in God’s Kingdom

In February, the students participated in a service project
called HOPE Packs in partnership with Elim Christian
 Services. Students donated school supplies that were then
assembled into packages by the adult clients at Elim to be
shipped around the world for children who cannot afford
school supplies.

Eleven students from grades 5-8 visited Elim
and were able to serve next to the adult clients to assist in the
assembling of the Packs. Here are our students’ thoughts
from the project:

  • “You might have your ups and downs, but you should
love and worship God for the unique plan He gave not just me
or you but everyone.” – 8th grade student
  • “Through this experience, I learned about how special
God’s plan is for us all no matter who we are, what we look
like, or how we fulfill God’s plan.” – 5th grade student

These reflections from the students resonated how we
are equipping our students in a learning community focused
on discipleship. The students understood the big picture of
this project that as people called by God we are to recognize
that all people have a plan in God’s kingdom no matter our
differences, and we are to be co-laborers serving in God’s
world.

We look forward to partnering with Elim again next
year in supporting this great program.

We at Elim Christian Services are proud to be partners with Southwest Chicago Christian Schools. Click here to learn more about them.

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.

Saying “Congratulations” Matters

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The past two years have given me one experience after another to share with others The 5 Stages. It’s been an honor to be invited to speak in front of groups of all sizes to show them how important changing attitudes really is. Throughout these experiences I am certain I have learned more about disability attitudes than what I have ‘taught.’ One of the most influential experiences I have ever experienced happened earlier this year.

I had the opportunity to present the 5 Stages at a church in Hudsonville, Michigan, in January 2014 and in attendance was a friend of mine from high school. I have not kept in contact with her, outside of seeing her Facebook posts, since we graduated in 2002. Because we were friends on Facebook I was aware she and her husband had their third child just over 10 months prior to that evening and he was born with Down syndrome. She of course, like every new proud parent, posted a picture of him on Facebook with all his birth stats and explained he was born with Down syndrome. Without even giving it any real thought I just wrote the typical “Congratulations!” on her post and then wrote a little bit about how I worked at Elim and I would be more than happy to walk down this road with them as they figure out their sons unique needs. Keep in mind I must have been the 50th or 60th person to comment on this post.

Before I posted it on her wall I sat there staring at it thinking, “What if she gets mad? What if she responds, ‘Who do you think you are, not talking to me in 11 years and the first thing you say to me is this?’” I was worried about her reaction, but I posted it anyway. Flash forward to me talking to her face to face in Hudsonville about the day Owen was born; and for the first time I found out her reaction. Through tear-filled eyes she recounted the details of that day and then mentioned my comment on Facebook. She told me I was the first person to say, “Congratulations…everything was going to be ok…her son was going to be an incredible blessing in their life.”

Thinking back on this story has reminded me of a couple of things. First, every life…EVERY life, is a blessing from God. Whether a baby is born without deficiencies, or with Down syndrome, or with cerebral palsy….. each life is created in the image of God. My friend’s son was born with Down syndrome and will live with it his entire life, but God has a plan for him just like every baby born that day, or week, or month.

Secondly, I’m reminded that disability awareness is lacking in our world. We need to help others recognize that a baby born with a disability is not something to mourn. God creates each of us uniquely, with different abilities. Our abilities or inabilities do not determine our value; we have value because of who we all are – God’s children. God has placed a call on each of our lives, including the lives of those with disabilities, and we need to equip each other and all of God’s children to answer that call.

We need to change attitudes.

I hope my story helps you start by saying, “Congratulations!” to every mom and dad, including those parents who children are born with special needs.

 

Dan Quist is the former Church Relationship Coordinator at Elim Christian Services. He is currently serving at Timothy Christian Schools as their Director of Admissions and Student Recruitment. Quist has a degree in Secondary Education and a Master’s in Educational Administration. He resides in Palos Heights, IL with his wife and two children.

 

The 5 Stages – Why It Exists

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“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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Praying for Healing for the Wrong Person

Brad has served at Elim for almost three decades, and like many of us, he never expected to be here for very long. Something about Elim, though, draws you in.

Also, like a lot of us, Brad started out wishing for a better life for those we serve. After all, life with disabilities seems a grim prospect, and you at least wonder if there’s the possibility that something more could be done with their lives if only they weren’t all disabled.

So it happened that Brad would find himself praying for healing, not for himself, but for the adults with disabilities to whom he tended each day. One day, he was in the middle of this prayer, when Liz began to sing a hymn she had learned in her church.

When Brad told me this story, he said it was an eye-opener for him, perhaps literally, since he had been praying at the time. But figuratively too. Maybe it was God’s way of showing us that He doesn’t need us to be normal to show His love.

That raises a question for me, because I normally think of God in terms of His power, and that’s where a lot of this disability talk gets tripped up. Most of the people I know at Elim, who have a disability, will never have power. But what they often possess, and share freely, is a love that shames my own expression of this chief character of God.

But this, too, is an area where I have to be careful, because God did not make people with disabilities more loving than He did with me. They are just more uninhibited in sharing His love, and that’s probably what makes their expression of it so much more powerful than mine.

 

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.